Storytelling at Work
November 10, 2023
The Hostage Situation

A few days ago, Rabbi Zoe B. Zak from Temple Israel of Catskill asked me to write something for tonight's Sabbath service -- something that spoke to the hostage situation in Israel.

This gave me pause and one more opportunity to reflect -- specifically on what, if anything of value, did I have to say about this great tragedy and from what persona of mine would I speak?

As a member of this temple? A Jew? An American? A man? A father? A poet? A Democrat? A peace advocate? A lifelong seeker of truth?

There are so many ways to look at things, so many points of view, so many sides of the story.

At first blush, like all of you here tonight, my heart goes out to the hostages and their families. I can only imagine if it were my children who had been taken hostage... or my friends... or my parents. I have no words to describe the feelings I would be having, never having lived through this nightmare myself.

Nor do I have words to describe the feelings of the hostage-takers and what drove them to such an action in the first place.

Here's what I know: thoughts and prayers are not enough to heal the pain that the people of Israel and Palestine are experiencing. Nor is political posturing, protest marches and whatever cease fire or truce is eventually agreed on -- especially since we all know that whatever cease fire or truce is agreed on will only be temporary and that the deep-seated hatred and antagonism that both sides have for each other -- along with their own "proof" for why their stance is well-founded -- is likely to continue.

Here's what else I know:

We were not born to hurt, fight and kill each other. We were born to experience love, kindness, compassion, consciousness and true humanity.
Demonizing the so-called "other" is easy to do. It has become a sport on planet earth -- which, as far as I can tell, is a planet of duality, one of the great challenges facing all of us -- the apparent dance of opposites:

Up and down... in and out... black and white... good and bad... East and West... North and South... hot and cold... male and female... light and dark... now and later... hard and soft... you and me... us and them... Israel and Palestine.

This duality, deeply embedded into the DNA of every single person that walks this earth very much affects our perceptions of life. "Otherness" rules us in just about every aspect of our lives. And this otherness blinds us to our common humanity in such a vile way that it makes it insanely difficult to experience each other as brothers and sisters... or children of the same God.

We have all been taken hostage by this mindset of otherness. We have all been kidnapped by an invisible force that makes it extremely difficult to come from a place of love instead of hate, compassion instead of destruction, kindness instead of killing.

Personally speaking, I have seen and felt a lot in my 76 years.

I almost died at 21, just three seconds away from drowning. Three years later, when I was 24, I met a great being and experienced my timelesss, true nature beyond the circumstances of my life. I saw an angel when I was 27 -- not in my imagination, but in my room. I worked in an Islamic school for a year -- the only Jew among 1,000 Muslims. I have walked the halls of power in corporate America, for 35 years, invited by that curious slice of humanity to open their minds to new possibilities. I have brought two children into this world, written seven books, and watched Fiddler on the Roof six times.

Speaking of which, there is a scene in that movie that has always stayed with me -- one that has relevance to the world we now find ourselves living in. Perhaps you remember the scene.

Tevye, the town milkman and also the town wise man was walking through the town square when he encounters two villagers arguing loudly about a transaction they recently had. Apparently, one of the men sold a horse to the other, but the other man is now insisting it was not a horse, at all, but a mule. When they see Tevye, each of them turns to him and vehemently makes their case.

After the first man tells his side of the story, Tevye strokes his beard and says "You're right!"

Then the second man, with an entirely different story of the transaction, makes his case to Tevye.

Tevye listens, strokes his beard and says. "You're right!"

A third villager, standing close by, who had been watching the argument play out for the past ten minutes then turns to Tevye and says, "Wait a minute, how can he be right (pointing to the first man) AND he be right (pointing to the second man)?"

Tevye listens, strokes his beard, and exclaims "YOU'RE RIGHT!" Then he starts dancing, embodying in that highly-charged moment, something far beyond right and wrong.

This story may sound cute to you or not at all applicable to the awful situation in the Middle East. But it is neither cute or naive. There is a lot of truth in it.

Until and unless, we -- as a species -- get to a place beyond our cultural perceptions of right and wrong -- we will always be fighting, always killing, always taking others hostage and more fundamentally, taking ourselves hostage.

What I am talking about has nothing to do with the laws of mankind. It has to do with the laws of life and the almighty -- that which not everyone agrees on, selectively quoting from their favorite scripture or interpretation of their favorite scripture to support their own point of view.

What can YOU do in regard to the hostage situation in Israel? What can you do in regard to the horror show going on in the Middle East these days -- and let us not forget the war between Russian and Ukraine.

That is for you to decide.

You can send thought and prayers. You can send money. You can send ambassadors. You can protest. You can write letters. You can come to services like the one here tonight. And all of these approaches, of course, have their place and time.

But ultimately, all of us -- you and me and everyone else who is not in this room tonight -- will need to find our own way back to peace -- the promised land that is not a physical place, but a state of being, a state of consciousness -- one whose natural attributes are love, kindness, empathy, compassion, selflessness, and the recognition that all people, regardless of their apparent differences, skin color, religion, language, politics, education, or perceptions are children of the same God -- all here to experience true love and forgiveness.

For now, before I take my leave, I invite you to close your eyes, take a long slow breath, and get in touch with one step you can take, one move you can make, to bring more love, kindness and understanding into this world -- starting tonight, in this room right now, in your home when you return there, and tomorrow in your community or wherever you can reach out to someone with love in your heart and the timeless recognition that we are all in this together.

Shalom! As-salamu alaikum to you all!
Unspoken Word
My peace poetry Facebook group

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:21 AM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2023
Five New Year Resolutions from a Very Wise Soul


My good friend, Stevie Ray McHugh, author of You Are God Enough and channeler of a wise soul named "Aion", asked for some guidance a few days ago re: New Year's resolutions. Here is the answer he received:

First, resolve to evolve. Stay more present by slowing down. This shift in perception enables you to stop the world and your egoic mind, allowing you to resonate in Higher Self even more frequently. This sets you firmly on the path of evolution in consciousness.

Second, share the stories of your struggles and realizations about soul integration. Sharing stories is an act of generosity and humility. The more you connect with others on the path, the more joy you will experience.

Third, act on your guidance even more closely in everything you do, think, say and feel. This requires the courage to trust in Spirit and transform into an even more fully integrated being. Embody the courage to create and recreate yourself, your life and your perception of the Real.

Fourth, let go of the habitual, egoic identifications that cause fear, anger, doubt or self-recrimination. Commit to letting go of who you think you are. Dance with the unknown. Explore deeper, wider and higher frequencies to fully embody the emergence of the new you, rising like a phoenix from the flames.

And fifth, radiate love and light. Be a beacon of light and forgiveness blessing all souls. Expand the love in your heart and radiate it outward in all directions and dimensions. This adds to the tsunami of love rippling across the multiverse, uplifting all souls and continuing the evolution consciousness Itself. You are that already. So be it.

More about Stevie Ray

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2022
Getting Ready to Cross Over


This is my friend, Warren Bernhardt. I saw him early this evening in his room, on his death bed. Warren is getting ready to move on after 83 years on planet Earth. As usual, I brought him a chocolate milkshake, even though a few days ago he decided not to drink anything anymore, just as he had decided not to eat anything anymore. But the last time I visited him, he asked if i would bring him a milkshake and so I did.

Before I visited today, I spoke with his beautiful daughter, Nicole, and we talked about whether or not I should actually give him the milkshake, wanting to honor his new commitment not to drink anything anymore. Nicole suggested I put it in the refrigerator and just visit him, but if he asked for the milkshake (choice, always choice!), then I would bring it to him. Four seconds after walking into his room, Warren asked me if I had brought the milkshake, so I fetched it from the kitchen, held it for him and bent the straw in his direction, so he could sip. But try as he might, he could not get anything from the straw. So, I pulled the straw out and sucked the bottom of it, clogged as it was, with a chunk of vanilla ice cream. It tasted very good.

Warren laughed. And then it was his turn. He took four sips and then asked me to put it back in the refrigerator, which I did.

We talked about many things and laughed a lot. Then we started talking about gratitude and grace and how important it was, at this time of his life, to focus on them both. He told me that is exactly what he has been doing on his death bed -- thinking about all that he has to be grateful for -- his son, Tim, his daughter Nicole, his wife Jan, and his friends and his music -- all of the music that has come through him for so many years, bringing delight and inspiration to millions of people all over the world.

At one point in his life, Warren's roommate was Bill Evans. They spent 12 hours each day playing 4-handed piano, the two of them sitting on the same piano bench, playing music, together, into the wee hours of the night.

The last time I visited Warren, someone in the living room was playing his piano. Warren liked what he heard and he asked me to find out who it was and thank him. It was a 12-year old boy, Charlie. I thanked Charlie on Warren's behalf, then played chopsticks with Angel, Rachel's son, for a little while.

There is a look of bliss on Warren's face, these days, that is a prelude to his moving on -- a letting go of the pain and the world. He hopes his father will meet him on the other side and many of his teachers and friends who have gone before him.

We talked more about grace and gratitude, Warren noting that both words begin with the same three letters.

Yesterday, Scott played some of Warren's music for him on his laptop and he loved it. I mentioned to Warren that some people, when they leave their body, hear celestial music. Warren told me he didn't want to hear celestial music when it was his time to go. He wanted to hear jazz!

I will see Warren again, God willing, on Friday, with one more chocolate milkshake. (When I hold the straw for him, I can tell when it is getting to his lips because of the coolness I feel between my thumb and index finger. That, and the smile on his lips.)

Ladies and gentlemen: here's to coolness and sweetness! Here's to gratitude and grace! Here's to the precious few moments left in all of our lives!

In terms of eternity, Warren is leaving just a few milliseconds before the rest of us. His passing is a gentle reminder for each and everyone of us of just how temporary this life is and how fortunate we are to be alive -- and when it's time to go, as it will inevitably be one day, to feel the sweetness on our lips and in our hearts for all of the blessings in our lives. Ki Jai!

PS: Before I left Warren's room today, I asked him if I could take his photo and share the essence of what we talked about with all of you. He smiled and said YES.

PPS: If you want to listen to some of Warren's music, click below.

Fun Ride
Sara's Touch

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:47 AM | Comments (1)

December 11, 2020
Quarantining the Mind


The practice of quarantine began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit, at anchor, for 40 days before landing. This word for this phenomenon harkens back to two Italian words, "quaranta giorni", which translate as "40 days".

OK. I get it. Quarantining makes sense. When someone or something is infected and contagious we remove it from society. We protect the whole, by isolating the parts.

But the body is not the only part of us that gets infected. So does our mind -- what the dictionary defines as "the element of a person that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences -- the faculty of consciousness and thought."

On a good, uninfected day, our mind is a capable of many glorious things: wonder, imagination, gratitude, focus, clarity, creativity, compassion, appreciation, and wisdom, just to name a few. But when it gets infected, watch out, my friends, watch out. The game changes quickly. All hell breaks loose.


The symptoms of the body's contagion are relatively easy to recognize, especially these days with all the coverage Covid-19 is getting: fever, chills, sneezing, coughing, body aches, and fatigue.

The symptoms of the mind's contagion? Not quite as easy to detect. Why not? Because, like pollution and hidden bank charges, we've become so accustomed to them, we barely notice anymore. But just because we don't, it doesn't mean the contagion isn't wreaking havoc. It most definitely is.

The symptoms of an infected mind? Take your pick: worry, doubt, fear, stress, anger, blame, confusion, panic, powerlessness, loneliness, hopelessness, irritation, frustration, hypochondria, lethargy, and overwhelm -- and that's just for starters.

Simply put our body gets physically infected and our mind gets metaphysically infected. And when it does, its contagion begins spreading exponentially. Other people are affected -- our families, our friends, and our communities.

These days, I have never been more aware of my mind's infection.

Living in semi-isolation as I am, 10,000 miles from home, more time on my frequently washed hands than usual, I am acutely aware of the condition I have. I've caught something. I have something. But the thing that I've caught and have doesn't need to catch and have me. It doesn't. Nope. No way. I'm in charge. Not it.

That's where choice enters the picture -- to quarantine the infected part of my mind before it gets out of hand.

What does this so-called quarantining look like? For me, it begins with a kind of peeing around my soul's territory and then choosing not to engage, not to react, not to fight back, and not to take a single bite from the seeming infinite supply of poisoned cookies my mind tosses my way.

Instead, I take a breath, return to the place of peace inside me, and send the feral monkeys of my mind back to their room for a long time out. And if they refuse my directive, as they often do, I simply turn and walk away, their nervous chattering now fading background noise in the soaring symphony of my life.

Does it always work? No. But sometimes it does. And the more I practice quarantining my mind, the flatter the curve.

Covid-19 is just a dress rehearsal, folks, an opportunity for each and every one of us to see through the illusory nature of the world and all we've constructed -- our identities, personas, possessions, accomplishments, systems, institutions, civilizations, and distractions. None of them are real. All of them come and go in the blink of an eye.

What remains when they skedaddle out of town? Now that's the 279 trillion dollar question, isn't it? What remains?

For now, let's keep it real simple. You and I and the other 7.7 billion people on planet Earth have a choice -- the choice to choose life over death, light over dark, love over hate, now over later, and presence over absence. And, perhaps above all else, the choice to pay attention to that which is truly worthy of our attention. You know what it is. I know you do. No matter what name you call it or how you invoke it, I invite you to pay more attention to that during these crazy Coronavirus days of change.

Photo: Courtesy of TimelessToday
The Two Wolves
Ending Violence with Chopsticks
Is That So?

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:14 AM | Comments (0)

August 18, 2020
Words Written to Ease the Passing of My Friend's Dying Mother


A few days ago, I got an email from a friend of mine, in Denmark, telling me that her mother was dying and would I be willing to email a few of my stories to her that she might choose one to read, bedside, to her mother.

Whoa! This was not a request that had ever come my way before and I was not at all sure I had anything up to the task. Curious, I began looking through my stuff and, after a few minutes, found a few that seemed sort of possible and sent them on their way.

Tina chose this one and read it to her mother on her death bed -- her mom smiling upon hearing it, nodding, and squeezing Tina's hand.

Those three gestures -- the gestures of a 96-year old woman on her way to the Great Beyond -- a smile, a head nod, and a squeeze of the hand -- is probably the most meaningful feedback I have ever received, enough for me to live on for quite a while, indeed, but the next morning, when I woke up, there was yet another message from Tina -- this one explaining that her mother had, at most, only another 30 minutes left and... would... I... be willing to send another story?

Tina's mom's hands.jpeg

Stunned, humbled, knocked for a loop, I wiped the sleep from my eyes and tried to think of something I'd written, something, that might be good enough for Tina to read to her mom, now only 30 minutes from death's door.

Nothing came to mind. Nothing I'd ever written felt right for the moment. Nothing fit the request. And then... I got it! NOW was the moment to write it. No mussing. No fussing. No time to waste. And so I did. And here it is:

"I know it seems as if you are dying, mother, but there is no such thing as death. What we call death is really just the walking from one room of your house into another -- a room with much bigger windows, fresher air, and an even better view than anything you have seen so far. The only thing that ends is the body, but the soul flies free, forever. As always, you are in good hands, God's hands, the hands of life, what gave you life in the beginning and will guide you on your way. We come and we go, like pilgrims, just for a while. We see, we hear, we think, we feel, but there is even something greater for all of us to experience and that is the journey you are now on. No one stays here, forever. We are guests, wayfarers, and traveling companions. In terms of eternity, you are leaving only a few minutes before I do. Both of us, like everyone else on planet Earth, is on the same journey -- the journey of letting go and waking up to who we truly are -- the love supreme, the breath of life, the gift we have been given and will always have. You have lived a good life. Be grateful for that. Now it is time to fly free. Wherever you go, know this: you will be guided and protected, always held in the arms of love. Always. Trust that. Go to the light. Fly free!"

NOTE: Out of this experience, only a few days old, I've decided to write a book of stories, reflections, and poetry for people about to depart: The Book of Last Days. I feel called to do this and, God willing, I will.

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 05:08 AM | Comments (0)

August 09, 2020


The following is a guest post from the very soulful and talented Burrill Crohn

The COVID crisis has only increased (vastly) the disproportion between the privileged haves and the far larger population who are somewhere on the scale between hungry and starving (often to death).

While the crisis has seen more hoarder mentality in many, there are others -- individuals and organizations -- who have been able send massive amounts of food to those with little or none. And so can we all, in whatever capacity.

But there is another approach as well, borrowed from the long-time Buddhist loving/kindness meditation practice -- one that breathes in the suffering of others, whether a specific individual or all sentient beings, and on the outbreath sends love and compassion to one and all.

When eating, I do my own variation.

As I eat -- whether snack or meal -- I invite others, anywhere, to come and share in the taste, nourishment and sheer joy of this food. Sometimes it's a blanket, open invitation. Sometimes I focus on a group: prisoners in isolation, someone I read about in the news, or a homeless family I see on the street. Other times I send this energy out into the non-material world seeking specific others or just any and all who can tap into what I'm sending.

One morning, for instance, eating a hearty breakfast, I specifically focused on all the front line COVID emergency responders who might have left home without a nourishing breakfast, or maybe were feeling a mid-morning let down of glucose metabolism and needed a pick-up.

Sometimes I see this like Keith Haring graffiti, lines of energy flowing from me to others; sometimes it's like inviting strangers, as is almost a requirement in many cultures and religions, into my own home (or in this case, body) to share a meal. There are other variations, as well, but you don't need examples from me. As you develop your practice -- if you so choose -- you'll find plenty of your own.

Certainly, facing the horror of pandemic hunger, there are those who will say only action counts. But we also live in a world where we send good wishes to others, offer prayers in houses of worship and the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of more than a half a billion people, says, "Think peace".

So I say, "Think food." It can't hurt, it might even help.

-- Burrill Crohn

Photo: Ashkan Forouzani, Unsplash

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 02:20 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2020
NEW FROM PREM RAWAT: Once Upon This Time There Lives You

NEW from the master storyteller, Prem Rawat! ONE 2 ONE, a series of daily talks about the story of all our lives -- the real plot... the true telling of the tale... and YOU are the character.

Feel free to subscribe to his newly launched YouTube channel to stay up to date with the timeless.


Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 04:14 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2020
Sheikh Waseem


The first week of my two and a half year relationship with Al Siraat College -- a K-12 Australian school in the Islamic tradition, I facilitated a 90-minute workshop for the school's teachers and staff. The experience, praise God, was very well-received and a big relief that my somewhat oddball approach to "teaching" was acceptable.

The next week, just as I was about to begin a second workshop with the same teachers and staff, one of the school's Quran teachers, the very noble Sheikh Waseem, approached me.

If this was a movie the two of us were in, "central casting" had nailed it because Sheikh Waseem was, most definitely, the living embodiment of a Muslim man -- at least the one I had in my mind: bearded, long white robe, white turban, and the kind of seriousness that spoke of a deep commitment.

With a twinkle in his eye, he stepped closer.

"Mr. Mitch," he said. "You are my teacher."

Caught off guard by this unexpected comment, I smiled, slightly bowed, and replied, "Oh no, Sheikh Waseem, you are MY teacher."

Then Sheikh Waseem smiled, bowed in my direction, and spoke yet again. "Oh no, Mr. Mitch, you are MY teacher."

The two of us just stood there, looking at each other. Realizing it was my turn, I spoke again, "Oh Sheikh Waseem, I am very curious. Why do you say that I am your teacher."

"Because Mr. Mitch, last week, at the workshop, I learned something very valuable from you."

"And what would that be, Sheikh Waseem?" I replied.

"I need to have more FUN!"

Wikipedia: Prophet Muhammed, PBUH

35 sayings of the Prophet Muhammed
An excerpt from "A Thousand Muslims and a Jew"
Meanwhile... in Mexico

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 03:51 AM | Comments (0)

March 19, 2020
SILVER LINING STORY #1: Finding Our Common Humanity


This just in from the totally wonderful Julian West in Kathmandu.

As countries worldwide slam shut their borders and condemn millions of us to enforced and self-enforced isolation, something wonderful is happening. A new sense of humanity, fueled not only by natural compassion, but the knowledge that from Beijing to Bologna, from Seoul to San Francisco, we are all going through the same thing. The Big C is here, everywhere, and it could be coming for us, too.

All of us are worried: about our health, the health of our friends and families, our communities; our livelihoods and those of others; our ability to survive. Governments everywhere have proved themselves inadequate, in many different ways, to coping with this crisis. In a matter of days, countries like Britain are melting down: the ragged state of the safety nets designed to protect people, but torn apart by decades of government cuts, exposed. We have a health service that can't respond; employers that either cannot or will not pay sick leave; supermarkets whose supply chains have broken under the weight of human fear.

But we also know that ALL of us are experiencing this. And from that shared experience is blossoming something rare and precious: community, humanity, compassion, and kindness.

I belong to Nextdoor, one of many neighbourhood groups, usually carrying notices for workmen, or local news and tips. For the last two or three weeks the site has filled with offers to help elderly people; links to volunteer groups; tips to stay healthy and fed; compassionate words of support and advice for the sick or scared -- of whom there are many. It helps people feel less isolated. To feel they are not alone. For indeed we are not.

The other silver lining to this dark cloud hanging over us all is the improved environment. For the first time in years, in Beijing you can see the sun. Smoggy grey skies are now blue. In Kathmandu where I live for much of the time, streets are clean of cars; the magnificent Himalayas are out in full glory; we can breathe.

These are just some of the ways this crisis is helping us: to find our common humanity, to see the glory of the beautiful world we live in; to offer, as a counterpoint to dystopia, something truly divine.

-- Julian West

How to submit a silver lining story to this blog

Posted by Mitch Ditkoff at 07:09 AM | Comments (0)


Storytelling at Work is a blog about the power of personal storytelling – why it matters and what you can do to more effectively communicate your stories – on or off the job. Inspired by the book of the same name, the blog features "moment of truth" stories by the author, Mitch Ditkoff, plus inspired rants, quotes, and guest submissions by readers.

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