The Heart of the Matter
July 21, 2023
It's Not That Difficult a Question

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Prem Rawat has been speaking to people, all over the world, about peace, for the past 53 years or so. He is always in great demand and his audiences, in India, have sometimes been as large as 300,000. So, when I found out, in 2010, that he was coming to my little town of Woodstock, NY, I was quite surprised -- especially since the biggest venue in town, the Bearsville Theater, had a capacity of only 350.

No matter. His is not a numbers game. He goes where the love is and there was a lot of love in Woodstock drawing him there.

A few days before he arrived, I received a phone call from a woman whose role it was to select the MC and the backstage security person for the event.

Since I had MC'd some of Prem's events before, she thought it might be a good idea if I was available to MC the Woodstock event, but she told me she was also going to ask another person, Joan Apter, to be available, and then, on the day of the event, she would make her decision.

The person, she explained, who was not chosen to MC would do back stage security. Our responsibility, she went on to say, was simply to show up at the hall an hour early and then, at that time, she would tell us who was going to MC and who would do back stage security.

But I already knew the answer.

Joan was going to MC the event and I was going to do back stage security -- because, I reasoned, if I was backstage, I'd have a better chance of having a moment or two with Prem as he waited for his cue to take the stage. And besides, I sort of had a cold (sniff, sniff) and Joan, glorious Joan, would absolutely nail it as the MC.

Getting to the hall a bit earlier than Joan, I explained to the MC-selector lady that, today, I would NOT be the best choice to MC, given my cold (sniff, sniff, achoo!).

She agreed and I gleefully took my position back stage.

My role, I soon learned, was a simple one. When Prem entered the building, all I had to do was press a large red button on the wall to alert the sound and lighting guys that he had arrived. That's it -- notice when Prem walked into the building and push a big red button. No experience needed.

While Joan did her mic checks on stage, I practiced pushing a big red button back stage, hoping in my heart of hearts that somehow, I would have a moment with Prem -- not wanting, of course, to crowd him or get in his way or be goofy or uptight or screw things up.

After all, the back stage waiting area at the Bearsville Theater was small. The more I stood there, waiting for Prem's arrival, the more it dawned on me how just how small a space it was -- just big enough, for him and... me, the security guy with a cold, having just pressed the red button 20 times.

Get the picture?

As the hall filled up, so did every ounce of my being with a feeling I had become delightfully familiar with over the past 48 years -- the feeling of anticipating Prem's arrival -- the one person in the world who astounded me the most.

Usually, I was sitting in the audience, back in row ZZ or up in the mezzanine, but today... this sunny day in Woodstock... in the iconic Bearsville Theater once owned by Bob Dylan's manager... I was going to be closer, much closer, to the main attraction.

Time passed. And some timelessness, too. Then, walking up the stairs from the Green Room, I see Prem approaching, radiant, buoyant, and smiling.

"Hi Mitch," he says.

"Hi!" I reply.

"So why do you live in Woodstock?" he asks.

"Um..." I say, not at all certain that I know why I live in Woodstock. "Because it's so beautiful."

"No," he responds. "I know why.... because it's so remote."

Then he wanders away and just stands there, eyes closed, in what I imagined to be his way of getting ready to go out on stage. But then, with no warning, he pivots and walks back in my direction.

"So what's up?" he says, looking me straight in the eye.

And that's when I kind of lost it. Stunned as I was to be talking to him so casually, I could not, for the life of me, process his question.

Suddenly, his two words, "What's up?" took on a kind of cosmic Zen-Koan-like quality. A gigantic space opened up inside me. Time stopped. My mind, like some kind of drunken sailor, stumbled around, searching for something to say, but couldn't find the words. I mean, I could have talked about my work...or my family.. or my writing...or my whatever... but it all seemed so silly... so distant... so not what I wanted to say.

Somehow, I found myself floating, disappearing into his eyes. He just stood there, absolutely still, saying nothing. I kept drifting. The space that had opened up was very large and I had no access to language, me having entered a kind of Stevie Wonder-land of intoxication.

I'm not sure how much time passed. I'm guessing only a few seconds, but it seemed like forever. Then Prem smiled, leaned closed, and spoke six words I will never forget, "It's not that difficult a question."

Boom! I was back.

I said something that seemed to make sense. He said something that seemed to make sense. Then I said something. Then, he said something. Then the moment passed and he went out on stage and shared his message of peace with 350 locals, eager to listen to what he had to say.

I stood backstage, leaning up against a wall, feet on the ground, head in the clouds, and very, very glad to be alive.

Responses to Prem's talk from Woodstock locals
Photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 08:50 PM | Comments (1)

July 18, 2023
Adapt, Flow, Change & Respond


"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change." - Charles Darwin

I don't think anything in my life has completely prepared me for the Coronavirus situation. But there is one experience I have had that partially prepared me.

The year? 1980. The place? Denver, Colorado. That's when and where I was asked to coordinate a public event for Prem Rawat. I had never coordinated any of his events before, but I was up for the challenge.

The task, as best I understood it, was going to be a demanding one, but definitely doable. There were teams to organize, a union contract to negotiate, meetings to conduct, things to figure out, and all kinds of planning to do, what with the security, ushering, ticketing, promotion, speaker selection, staging, and so forth. A stretch? For sure. But I was up for the game.

And so I got busy. Virgo that I was (and still am), I made lists, scheduled conference calls, met with volunteers, fielded questions, talked to the press, found assistants, facilitated meetings, and did a whole bunch of other stuff that goes along with preparing for one of Prem's events with only six weeks notice.


On the day of the event, knowing that Murphy's Law always had a way of kicking in, I got to the hall earlier than most people thought was necessary just to make sure I wouldn't have any last minute scrambling to do. And so, I made my rounds, checked in with the teams, poked and prodded, high-fived and hugged, and all the while feeling the joyful buzz of knowing that Prem Rawat would soon be holding forth.

Then the phone rang.

It was Bill Wishard, Prem's national event coordinator. He had some news for me -- that... um... er... there were some mechanical difficulties with the plane in LA and, while Prem was still planning on making it to the program, he was going to be two hours late.

This information was not, as I recall, on any my lists.

Prem, who in my experience, was the most punctual person on the planet, was not supposed to be late -- not by a minute and certainly not by two hours. But late he was going to be and it was clearly time for Plan "B" -- the one I didn't have, barely able, as I was, to get Plan "A" together.

Bill, God bless him, went on to give me some very useful advice, mentioning choices I might want to consider over the next few hours -- the gist of things, the goal -- but that's about it. The rest was up to me.

Show time!

The first thing I needed to do was renegotiate the union contract, since the one I'd signed a few weeks ago expired at 11:00 pm, but with Prem arriving two hours late we were going to need the hall at until 1:00 am.

OK. No big deal. Simple to do, right?

So I navigated my way through the back halls of the venue, found the union office, and walked in, looking for "Big John", the oversized union President. But Big John was not in his office.

"He's out to dinner," his assistant explained. "Italian food."

"OK," I replied. "Can you tell me which Italian restaurant -- like the name and the address?"

"Sorry, no can do," she said. "John didn't tell me. All he mentioned was he was going out for Italian."

The next thing I know I'm running through the streets of downtown Denver, contract in hand, looking for an Italian restaurant, preferably one with John in it. And wouldn't you know, by the Grace of God, at the end of the street, I see one! Amazing!

Huffing and puffing, I enter and look for John, but John is not there. Lots of other people are there, sipping wine and eating garlic bread, but not John. John is nowhere in sight.

I exit as fast as I can and continue running through the streets of downtown Denver. And then? Badaboom! Badabing! There, just a few doors away, I see yet another Italian restaurant: Gino's Trattoria -- a much nicer looking eatery than the one I had just exited.

Big John is not in this restaurant either.

I look at my watch. I take a breath. I look at my watch again.

"This is not good," I think to myself. "This is definitely not good. I've got to get back to the hall to handle all that other stuff!"

Visions of union officials turning off the lights in the middle of Prem's talk start rushing through my head. Not a pretty picture. But I cannot afford to dwell on this scenario for long, especially since now, somehow, I find myself standing in front of the third Italian restaurant of the night. Catching what's left of my breath, I push the door open, scan the room, and there, not more than 10 feet from me, sits Big John, white bib around his neck, big plate of spaghetti and meatballs before him.


I approach, explain the situation, and hand John the contract and a pen.

"No problem," he says, crossing out 11:00 pm and replacing it with 1:30 am. "But you know there will be overtime charges, right?"

"Yes, I do," I manage to say as I make my escape, rolled up contract in hand.

Boom! I'm back in the hall.

Next up? The band. And when I say "band" I'm referring to the five local musicians, also students of Prem's, who agreed, just a few weeks ago, to be the entertainment for the night. I find them in the green room. They are all looking a little bit green.

"Hey guys," I blurt, "listen up. There's been a change of plans. Prem's gonna be two hours late. You'll need to play 12 songs tonight."

"Twelve? Twelve? We only know four."

"Well, I guess you'll need to learn another eight. Go for it."

And with that I'm out the door for whatever is next, which, it suddenly dawns on me is drafting eight more guest speakers. Two I had already secured a month ago, the two "normal amount" of speakers who usually spoke before Prem spoke. But now, having done the math, I realize I'm eight short.

So I scan the audience, searching for people I think I can count on. One by one I ask, and one by one they accept, their plans for the evening having suddenly changed, though I didn't have the time to explore their feelings, it now being time to mount the stage and announce that "due to some mechanical difficulties with his plane in Los Angeles, our featured speaker of the evening, Prem Rawat, is going to be delayed -- like two hours or so."

I go on to explain that they have two choices -- they can either stay in the hall and enjoy our guest speakers and band OR they can go out for dinner, as long as they return to their seats in two hours.

Some stay. Some leave, as I introduce the band and exit stage right. Two songs... then a speaker. Two songs... then a speaker. Two more songs... and a speaker. And so the evening goes until the phone rings again. It is the very cheery Bill Wishard, informing me that they are "on their way", but are... um... going to be... just little bit later than they'd planned. Not that late, but late nonetheless.

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OK. So be it. Whatever. I scan the audience and draft four more speakers. They speak. The band plays. And then, having run out of speakers, I speak, people now returning to their seats from whatever restaurant, bar, or stroll that had occupied them these past two hours.

And then someone signals me that Prem has arrived! He is in the hall. I thank everyone for their patience, give a brief introduction, and then, Prem takes the stage -- amazingly cool, calm, and collected. He speaks for an hour and a half, sharing his message of peace with 2,400 people thrilled for the chance to finally sit back, relax, and take it all in.

FOOD FOR BEYOND THOUGHT: What does that night, in Denver, 40 years ago, have to do with preparing me (or any of us) for these crazy days of the Coronavirus? Plenty! At the risk of oversimplifying things and seeming to be wiser than I am, here's the gist of what I learned in a deeper way than ever before -- all of which applies to this moment in time:

1. MAN PLANS, GOD LAUGHS: Yes, I made a ton of effort in the six weeks prior to Prem's Denver event. And I'm glad I did. But in the end, my plan was only a plan -- the menu, not the food. Something else, very, very different, was required of me that night -- the ability to let go of my plan and be totally in the moment.

2. ADAPTABILITY IS THE NAME OF THE GAME: The reason most trees don't break in a windstorm is because they're able to bend. If they don't bend, they break. It's the same for all of us. Windstorms come. Unexpected changes come. And sometimes, catastrophes. If we can bend, adapt, and go with the flow, we survive. If we can't, we don't.

3. TRUST: Somehow, at the core of what happened to me that fateful night in Denver, was the experience of trust. Trust! Something deep within me knew that everything was going to be just fine. Exactly how it was going to be fine was a mystery to me, but that wasn't my business. Bottom line, I just let go and followed the yellow brick road. It is with great respect and gratitude that I thank Prem for helping me experience this trust -- because, over the years, he has nudged me in oh so many meaningful ways to feel it in my bones -- the feeling and the knowledge that everything is gonna be alright.

4. ASK FOR HELP: From the moment Bill informed me that Prem was going to be late, it was clear to me I needed help -- a lot of help. I had to go beyond my fear of what people would think when I approached them and asked for their help. But help was needed. And it was my role to ask.

5. STAY CENTERED IN MY HEART: In my role as program coordinator that unforgettable night, it was my responsibility to stay focused, centered, and conscious. I could not afford to get crazy. While that option, of course, was always there, choosing it wouldn't have served anyone. Not Prem. Not the people in the audience. And not me. My only real option that night was to stay centered in my heart. And I thank Prem and the Knowledge he reveals for helping me do just that.

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6. MAINTAIN MY SENSE OF HUMOR: A Denver program coordinator, a rabbi, and a penguin walk into bar. Or as Mahatma Gandhi once said, "If I didn't have a sense of humor, I would have committed suicide long ago." Even though there were tons of stressors to deal with that night, there was also something very funny about the whole thing. A divine comedy it was. A play. A comic outtake from my own Mahabharata. And I was in it. Just like we are all in it these days of the Coronavirus. It's not always easy and it's not always fun, but it's happening. How we respond to the challenges before us is up to us. We have a choice. We always have a choice

7. BE PATIENT AND PERSEVERE: The story I've just shared with you lasted only two and a half hours. The experience we are going through now, as much of what we have come to depend on falls apart, is lasting a whole lot longer. But no matter what the outcomes of Covid-19 might be for any of us, perseverance and patience are needed. Not just the idea of patience and perseverance, but the practice.

Like the Roman poet, Horatio, once said, "Adversity reveals genius, prosperity conceals it."

Yes, adversity is front and center these days. And for some people, the worst kind of adversity -- the loss of lives -- their own or their loved ones. The scripts we've written that define our lives no longer apply. Our lists? Good for kindling, perhaps, but not much else. Our plans? Out the window of the house whose rent or mortgage we can no longer afford.

In it's place?

Ah... now that's the question, isn't it? What is it that takes the place of our old scripts, strategies, and plans? What?

Something for each of us to contemplate, for sure.

The good news? We have what it takes. We do. We've been through hardships and difficulties before. We have -- as individuals and as a species. We've adapted, adjusted, rebounded, learned, responded, let go, moved on, and found our way to higher ground.

Remember those times!
Call on whatever it is within you that's the source of your courage, resiliency, and trust. Go deeper than you've ever gone before. It's possible. It is. But not just possible. It's absolutely necessary.

One breath at a time.

First photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday
Inspiring quotes on patience

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:37 AM | Comments (0)

July 04, 2023
Unexpected Tears of Joy

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There are times, these days, when I am driving in my car or sitting at my kitchen table late at night, alone, when my eyes fill with tears -- not tears of sadness, tears of joy.

Inundated by a feeling of unspeakable gratitude, tears come, welling up from the same place where poetry comes from and prayer and realizing we are only here for a very short time. These tears have no denomination, no religion, no philosophy. What triggers them at any given moment is a mystery to me, but I wouldn't trade them for all the money in the world.

Yes, I understand there are lots of spiritual practices to choose from, lots of pilgrimages to go on, and lots of holy books to read, but if they don't lead to the moment when tears of joy bubble up from the great beyond within, what difference do they make?

Here's to feeling deeply, my friends. Here's to gratitude. Here's to each and everyone of us being smitten with the power of life that animates us all.

Inspirational videos

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 06:52 AM | Comments (0)

July 02, 2023

A collaboration between Stuart Hoffman, Fernando Garcia, and yours truly. Enjoy!

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:31 PM | Comments (0)

Welcome to Mitch Ditkoff's blog about what's really important in this life: Peace, gratitude, love, joy, clarity, and the effort required to wake up and smell the roses. Enjoy!

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