Applied Polyvagal Theory in Action

THE TRAIN CLANKED and rattled through the suburbs of Tokyo on a drowsy spring afternoon. Our car was comparatively empty – a few housewives with their kids in tow, some old folks going shopping. I gazed absently at the drab houses and dusty hedgerows.

At one station the doors opened, and suddenly the afternoon quiet was shattered by a man bellowing violent, incomprehensible curses. The man staggered into our car. He wore laborer’s clothing, and he was big, drunk, and dirty. Screaming, he swung at a woman holding a baby. The blow sent her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple. It was a miracle that she was unharmed.

Terrified, the couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car. The laborer aimed a kick at the retreating back of the old woman but missed as she scuttled to safety. This so enraged the drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion. I could see that one of his hands was cut and bleeding. The train lurched ahead, the passengers frozen with fear. I stood up.

I was young then, some 20 years ago, and in pretty good shape. I’d been putting in a solid eight hours of aikido training nearly every day for the past three years. I like to throw and grapple. I thought I was tough. Trouble was, my martial skill was untested in actual combat. As students of aikido, we were not allowed to fight.

“Aikido,” my teacher had said again and again, “is the art of reconciliation. Whoever has the mind to fight has broken his connection with the universe. If you try to dominate people, you are already defeated. We study how to resolve conflict, not how to start it.”

I listened to his words. I tried hard. I even went so far as to cross the street to avoid the chimpira, the pinball punks who lounged around the train stations. My forbearance exalted me. I felt both tough and holy. In my heart, however, I wanted an absolutely legitimate opportunity whereby I might save the innocent by destroying the guilty.

This is it! I said to myself, getting to my feet. People are in danger and if I don’t do something fast, they will probably get hurt.

Seeing me stand up, the drunk recognized a chance to focus his rage. “Aha!” He roared. “A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!”

I held on lightly to the commuter strap overhead and gave him a slow look of disgust and dismissal. I planned to take this turkey apart, but he had to make the first move. I wanted him mad, so I pursed my lips and blew him an insolent kiss.

“All right! He hollered. “You’re gonna get a lesson.” He gathered himself for a rush at me.

A split second before he could move, someone shouted “Hey!” It was earsplitting. I remember the strangely joyous, lilting quality of it – as though you and a friend had been searching diligently for something, and he suddenly stumbled upon it. “Hey!”

I wheeled to my left; the drunk spun to his right. We both stared down at a little old Japanese man. He must have been well into his seventies, this tiny gentleman, sitting there immaculate in his kimono. He took no notice of me, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most important, most welcome secret to share.

“C’mere,” the old man said in an easy vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. “C’mere and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly.

The big man followed, as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman, and roared above the clacking wheels, “Why the hell should I talk to you?” The drunk now had his back to me. If his elbow moved so much as a millimeter, I’d drop him in his socks.

The old man continued to beam at the laborer.

“What’cha been drinkin’?” he asked, his eyes sparkling with interest. “I been drinkin’ sake,” the laborer bellowed back, “and it’s none of your business!” Flecks of spittle spattered the old man.

“Ah, that’s wonderful,” the old man said, “absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake too. Every night, me and my wife (she’s 76, you know), we warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, and we sit on an old wooden bench. We watch the sun go down, and we look to see how our persimmon tree is doing. My great- grandfather planted that tree, and we worry about whether it will recover from those ice storms we had last winter. Our tree has done better than I expected, though especially when you consider the poor quality of the soil. It is gratifying to watch when we take our sake and go out to enjoy the evening – even when it rains!” He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling.

As he struggled to follow the old man’s conversation, the drunk’s face began to soften. His fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah,” he said. “I love persimmons, too…” His voice trailed off.

“Yes,” said the old man, smiling, “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”

“No,” replied the laborer. “My wife died.” Very gently, swaying with the motion of the train, the big man began to sob. “I don’t got no wife, I don’t got no home, I don’t got no job. I am so ashamed of myself.”

Tears rolled down his cheeks; a spasm of despair rippled through his body.

Now it was my turn. Standing there in well-scrubbed youthful innocence, my make-this-world-safe-for-democracy righteousness, I suddenly felt dirtier than he was.

Then the train arrived at my stop. As the doors opened, I heard the old man cluck sympathetically. “My, my,” he said, “that is a difficult predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it.”

I turned my head for one last look. The laborer was sprawled on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap. The old man was softly stroking the filthy, matted hair.

As the train pulled away, I sat down on a bench. What I had wanted to do with muscle had been accomplished with kind words. I had just seen aikido tried in combat, and the essence of it was love. I would have to practice the art with an entirely different spirit. It would be a long time before I could speak about the resolution of conflict.

Terry Dobson

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The Science of Social Safety

science social safety flyer for worpress pro bono

The Science of Social Safety       

How many of our choices, perceptions and reactions does human biology run outside our conscious awareness? Many neuroscientists claim – for better or worse – as much as 98% of them. In this juicy, live, mixed-media, hour-long online presentation (one-on-one & in small groups), I’ll be inviting you to take a compassionate look at which parts of our biology run us unconsciously and self-protectively and which parts don’t. Reframing complex biology into simple, everyday language, you will come away equipped with a number of unique tools and personal insights. This new learning will show you how to address the root causes of learning difficulties, depression, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, Cell Danger Response and social isolation and allow for mindfully choosing between expansive, safe connection or the limiting effects of self-protection.

Suggested Exchange: By donation according to the  Right Giving Model.

For registration information, click HERE.


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An Angel and the Devil Walk Into a Bar

24f21e44cd636f61e3fb6f7988753b7f.gifAn Angel and the Devil walk into a bar, sit down and order a beer.

The Angel says, “I think I’ll start a human potential organization.”

The Devil says, “Great idea. Let me organize it for you.”

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The Thief and The Zen Master

“A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth.”    ~ James Allen

Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras in the privacy of his home when a thief suddenly entered, sword in hand. The story of the thief and the zen master.

One evening the Zen master Shichiri Kojun was reciting sutras in the privacy of his home, when a thief suddenly entered, pulling a sword and demanding Shichiri’s money or his life.

The Zen master was not afraid — only annoyed. “You are disturbing me!” he snapped, “The money is in that drawer, over there.” He pointed distractedly at a counter in the far corner of the room. “Help yourself,” he said, resuming his recitation.

The thief ambled over to the counter, opened the drawer and began taking the money. Suddenly the master called out, “Don’t take all of it! Leave some for me to pay my taxes tomorrow.”

This gave the burglar pause. It was a bold demand. Nevertheless, he did as requested and left some money behind, closing the drawer and heading for the door. Just as he was about to cross through the archway, the monk’s voice came again, even louder: “Hey! You took my money and you didn’t even thank me? That’s very impolite.”

At this, the burglar turned, eyeing the old adept with a mixture of wariness and bewilderment. The wind passed around him, rustling his hair and clothes as he stood on the threshold between the inside and outside worlds. His grip tightened on his sword.

Shichiri stared back at him from his spot on the floor, his look overly dramatic, his posture sharp.

After a moment, the intruder replied dryly: “Thank you,” and left without waiting for a response. Later, in recalling the tale for his friends, he joked that he had been more afraid of the old Zen master than the other way around.

Within the week, however, the burglar was caught in the midst of another break-in. He was taken to the nearest kōban and pressured into revealing the details of his crimes. Among them was the house of Shichiri Kojun. After a lengthy period in holding, he was presented to the court and tried.

When Shichiri was called as a witness, and asked to recount the incident, he said: “Actually, this man did not steal anything from me — I gave him the money.” He looked directly at the thief, a certain glint in his eye. “He even thanked me for it.”

While this did not keep the crook from going to jail, it did help reduce the sentencing, and he found himself thinking often of the old master during his time in prison. A day did not go by, in fact, that Shichiri wasn’t on his mind.

Years later, a knock came at the old monk’s door. He opened it to find the thief standing before him, freshly out of prison, a bag slung over his shoulder, his face noticeably aged.

“Ah, I thought you might turn up,” Shichiri chuckled. He stood back and opened the door, welcoming the criminal who had pulled a sword on him into his own home once again. “Please, come in.”

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The Power of Real Practice

keith jarrett.jpgIn the Boston music scene at the time of Keith Jarrett’s stunning masterpiece, The Köln Concert, there was a tale going around about the development of his virtuosity. It was said that he had a  Russian piano teacher who trained him with great precision and powerful discipline. She trained him in a path to mastery. She asked him, it was said, to spend eight hours each day playing one note on the piano – one note only – every day for a week. She asked him to dedicate himself to knowing each of the notes intimately. He spent eighty-eight weeks, the story goes, doing just that. He came to intimately know the eighty-eight keys. 

Singh, K.D. (2017). Unbinding: The grace beyond self. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, p. 89.

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The Neurobiology of Sacred Relationship

Sacred Relationship Flyer for Worpress Ministry Model

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Sacred Prayer Pod

Sacred Prayer Pod

Brand New Mobile 6′ x 8’

Sacred She-Shed,
Magical Man-Cave,
Enchanted Playhouse

“Roll It Into the Back Yard and Plug It In!”


All new construction. 115 amp electric camper outlet.
New Lock. Cedar exterior. Interior Unfinished.
Mounted on four 8” hard rubber wheels.

FOB Langley, Washington (Whidbey Island)


Possible Usage 

Imagine: it’s early on a cold weekend morning.The kids are up, the iPads are blaring all through the house. The partner’s over in America trying to bring home some hummus. You know right where you need to go to get the oh-so-needed Alone Time. The inviting smell of cedar greets you as you open the door. A wash of warm air, heated by the timer on the mini-electric heater, invites you into the wo. You can already feel the muscles in your back and stomach begin to relax. Ahhh.

Other Possible Uses:

Writing Room
Stress Relief Sanctuary
Steam Room
Time-Out Haven
Personal Yoga Studio
Rentable Storage Unit
Sensory Dep Chamber
Mobile Spare Bedroom
Detached Home Office
Kid-Free Hideout
Tool Shed
Chicken Coop
Homeless Shelter
Artist’s Studio
Potting Studio
Prayer Pod
Dog house
Teen’s Sanctuary
Kid’s Playhouse
AirBNB Rental
Sleeping Pod
Lover’s Hideaway
Music Studio




12 Feet Across the Ridge
112” Height from the Ground
8 Feet Eave to Eave
49” x 60” Wheel Centers
Weight: @ 2200#


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