Spit The Hook

I was sitting in a coffee shop years ago, wanting solitude to think. Enjoying the view, sipping my tea. All of a sudden, this man I’d never seen before was hovering over me, leaning over the table into my face, saying something like, “So what do you think is the best way to help starving kids in poor parts of the world?” No introduction, no ‘How’s it going’, no thought for my space, just right there, invading my sphere of comfort and solitude, with an attitude insistent upon drawing me from being relaxed, calm, to suddenly going 100 miles an hour into a deep random discussion with a stranger about issues of life and death elsewhere in the world.

Woolly Mammoth

These are all pictures I took of the Incredible displays at the Royal British Columbia Museum in Victoria, B.C. Canada. This is a woolly mammoth, perhaps the most iconic and most-photographed of the displays.

Immediately, my mind felt trapped, started wriggling, like a fish caught on a hook: “Who is this person? Why did he target me? I don’t feel like talking to anyone, I came here to relax and be alone for awhile. How do I get him to go away, without appearing rude? If I don’t start talking with him about starving kids, then it will look like I don’t care about this issue, right? What do I do? Do I try to appear wise and caring and try come up with an answer, some conversation about this? I want to be a wise, caring person, so if I tell him to get lost, do I appear stupid and uncaring? Will he make a scene, will he tell others what an idiot he just met? Will he become an enemy, insult me whenever he sees me walking on the street? There’s obviously something socially wrong with him, if he stepped over all these boundaries instantly with a stranger… so exactly how far over the line is he, will this get crazy and dangerous? What are the other people in this coffee shop thinking, will I get embarrassed?” I’m all over the place inside, but how do I keep my face straight on the outside so I don’t look like a fool, a deer caught in the headlights, to everyone around who’s looking? My mind was wriggling like a hooked fish. In a couple seconds, it’s amazing how many quick impressions will run through your mind. Not long, thought-out ideas and responses, just snippets of impressions, arriving bang-bang-bang, until hopefully one comes along that seems like the right course of action.

Have you ever fished? Your line is deep in the water, suddenly there’s a strike, and all up the rod and into your arms and body you can feel that fish wriggling, fighting, veering left and right, up out of the water and down into deep circles, doing anything to get unhooked. Wriggling, wriggling, wriggling, caught and panicking. Before that, it was swimming freely in open water, no constraints, enjoying the currents and the bugs and whatever, now suddenly it is trapped in a small area defined by the strength and length of your fishing line, and it’s panicking, tumbling desperately in any and every direction, trying to escape, its normal daily routine turned upside-down into pain and confusion by being hooked.

Fish Cannery

This is what happens to our minds, when we’re caught in circumstances and thoughts that we don’t want and don’t know how to escape. It happens OFTEN. It happens when you’re talking with friends, family, acquaintances and strangers, and become caught, trapped by some conversation that you don’t want. Or don’t understand. Or someone is trying to manipulate, confuse, harm you. Or someone isn’t trying to, but that is how you’re feeling. Or you’re terrified by something. Or you’re enraged by something. Or you’re trying to figure out something that is evasive, confusing, something you can’t seem to let go of, you HAVE to figure it out, solve it.

You want to leave… yet you’re hooked like that fish, you feel like you CAN’T leave! This does not refer to all the moments of your day that might be uncomfortable but which you can change or leave easily. This refers to when your mind is HOOKED. Whether you can physically get up and walk away or whether you are quadriplegic and are physically stuck there, your mind is still hooked, you’re unable to figure out what to say exactly, how to change the subject, how to get this person to leave, to stop making you feel this way. You don’t want to look like an idiot, don’t want to be embarrassed, yet don’t want to remain trapped in this conversation, don’t know what to do.

Sea Lions

I can’t remember when I started becoming clearly aware of the process of being hooked like a fish. But once I did, I became consciously aware of noticing it whenever it happened, to me and to others. Some events stand out in my memory; I remember having breakfast in a family restaurant during my travels. At one table near me was an elderly couple, very tiny and demure and quiet people, the kind who go to a restaurant once a week, bring their books to read, don’t talk much to each other. They are part way through their meal, reading their books, when an obvious tourist sits down at the table next to them. He was huge, a seven-footer, cowboy hat and boots, the works, maybe in his 70’s, a big old-time cowboy who obviously lives his life ‘out loud’.

Right away he lays into this small prim couple at the next table, talking very loudly and friendly, a good ‘ol boy, telling them his life history, asking them loud questions. Not just for a couple moments as a friendly neighbor, I mean he TAKES THEM OVER. Half an hour later I’m still watching him talking loudly at them, and they are, by this time, actually squirming. Physically. They just don’t know what to do. They look away. They answer in little one-word mumbles. They look down at their plates, keep trying to read their books. This person next to them is oblivious to all this, he’s all about himself, and they are all about trying to escape him. But he’s not an ass… he’s being ‘nice’, being friendly. The kind of guy who’s so into his friendly self that he’d be surprised, even shocked, if they were to tell him to stop it, to go away. He’d even be resentful about it, since he was doing ‘nothing wrong’, in his eyes, just being neighborly, friendly.

He is at ease. He’s not hooked like a fish, he’s expressing himself freely, with no thought of the comfort of others. So this tool isn’t about him, we’ll save his one-sided blindness and deal with that in another tool. This tool is about that old couple, who are hooked and wriggling and don’t know how to escape. You can just see it. They want to leave, but that would take courage, be so abrupt. Do they leave their food? Do they pay? Will he say loudly, “Hey, where ya goin’, are you crazy? You people are sick! How rude, just up and ignoring me!” Will they be embarrassed? What are the people around them thinking, it’s obvious the whole place can see them squirming. What to do?

I’ve been there. Many of times. Everyone goes there. Everyone gets trapped, sometimes. Even that big guy at the restaurant who trapped the old couple… even HE gets trapped, sometimes, hooked like a fish, in some situation. You can become hooked like a fish by other people… and you can also hook your own mind like a fish, unable to let go of something you’ve become involved with; people don’t get upset or hooked when the topic isn’t ‘close to home’, doesn’t really affect them, but once a single sentence comes up that really hits a nerve, that same person suddenly gets blinders on, starts arguing, must prove something, must get to the bottom of something, must set things straight, must get their point across, and becomes absolutely hooked, unable to let the situation progress or change. They MUST keep going, they are caught in it, hooked like a fish. They may even, on some awareness level, know they are hooked, in deep, and wish they could bail themselves out, backpedal… but something in their minds just won’t let them. Hooked.

Being hooked, is awful. Whether you’re a fish, or a human. Your mind becomes unclear. Your freedom becomes trapped and confined. Your sense of who you are, gets forgotten. Your sense of who you want to be within this happening, is overwhelmed. Your strength, loses its steel. Your knowing of the right direction to take, has its radar scrambled. You lose yourself, you lose your mind’s clarity, and you lose your day’s clear unfolding.

How do you stop your mind from being hooked like a fish?

River Otter

Some displays have sound effects, like dripping water and seagulls. Some even have running streams and live exhibits.


Let’s get past the literalness of the hooked fish; we’re talking about a MIND hook. You can ALWAYS spit it, because it’s a thought process, and thoughts can be let go of. Always. Let’s move right to HOW you spit the hook. When you’re hooked in a conversation or circumstance, when you’re on the receiving end of something you don’t want to be receiving, or when you’re hooked on saying or doing something and you want to stop but don’t know how, what do you do? How do you spit the hook that’s pinned you to this uncomfortable, even out-of-control, place?

Let’s break down this statement, because these three words are much more exact, complete, wise, and beautiful than they first appear. To ‘spit the hook’, you get rid of the HOOK. That’s it. Whatever the subject is that you’re trapped within, whatever this person is talking about, whatever you are doing or saying, whatever has you hooked, you let that go…

…And you step back and look at what is REALLY happening. You shift away from the hook, and look at what is really happening. You spit the hook that has trapped you, you stand back and you take a look at the trap. I’ll show you what I mean:

In my coffee shop case, with this stranger wanting to talk about the starving kids… that is the hook. Being trapped by his statement or question, and wondering how to answer it, is the hook. To spit the hook, you immediately let go of, ignore that hook, and look at what is happening… and respond to what is happening. Like: “Why are you doing this? Look at you, you have reached, what, 50 years of age, and you are still going up to a complete stranger, without any thought of how uncomfortable this makes me, and trying to involve me, without any preamble or introduction, into some deep conversation? Did you even wonder why I’m sitting here alone? Maybe someone just died and I came here to think about it. Maybe I have a hectic life around a lot of people, and I came here to be alone for awhile. And look how close you are standing, you seem to have no idea about peoples’ need for space, especially from a complete stranger. Has no one in your life ever told you this? You are committing all kinds of social transgressions here. Forget about playing on my guilt and heartstrings by trying to trap me into a conversation about starving kids, what makes you think it is okay to do that to me, without even trying to find out what I am at this coffee shop for in the first place, without trying to sense whether you should leave me alone?”

Do you see it? I could add another hundred statements there, but that is it, in a nutshell. I completely spit out the hook he just sunk into my mind, I stand outside of answering what he asked me, I look at all the circumstances that are happening, and answer to THOSE circumstances, not to the one he tried to trap me with. Forget the hook they just gave you, the hook is not important, it is a test to see how much power you have, how much clarity you have about what is happening.

When I was 12 or13 I was walking with a couple friends at a summer camp we were staying at, and some older hippie guy passed us, stopped and started talking to us about anything and everything. He was kind, not rude or mean. He was funny, entertaining, friendly. In the middle of it, he just grabbed my yogurt or pudding or whatever I was spooning into my mouth, and took a few spoonfuls for himself, then handed the rest back. Some people are always stepping over lines that way. Some do it meanly, and others do it ‘nicely’. Until later in my adult life, I would always be slightly stunned by what people would do, like this. Not knowing what to do about it, I’d just suffer, endure it, and then like most other people in the world, think about it for two days until finally, in retrospect, decide what the best course of action would have been. And then wish I could go back in time and do THAT thing, rather than whatever measly namby-pamby pitiful stunned reaction I did give.

Now that I’ve learned this tool, I never have to wonder how to react or respond. There is no list, you don’t need to make up a massive list of what you should do during each kind of circumstance that gets you hooked, afraid, embarrassed. You do only one thing, always: you spit the hook, and you respond to what is really happening. In that yogurt case, if that happened now, I would be saying things like, “You just stole a few bites of my food. This isn’t about whether I am generous or not, maybe if you had asked I would have said yes. Maybe not. But because I’m half your size, I’m a little kid, you just helped yourself. It doesn’t matter that you’re a friendly guy, you’re not swearing at us or being mean. You still stole it, with no care about how I feel, about how this is confusing to me, about how it makes me look weak and afraid in front of my friends.”

You see? I would spit the hook – let go of wondering what I should do, how I should react to this person taking a few spoons of my pudding – and deal directly with what is happening: he was ‘kindly bullying’ me. Being a friendly bully. If that elderly couple I saw in the restaurant knew of this tool, they would have solved the entire problem right away. They would have spit the hook of sitting there trapped, wondering how to escape, wondering how to respond to the big guy’s friendly but loud talk and questions. They would have spit that out, and immediately looked at everything that was happening and respond to that. Something like, “Excuse me. Look at us… we are quiet, we came here to enjoy each others’ company, we like to come here every Sunday for breakfast, just to read. You seem like a friendly fellow so I don’t want to be mean, but you haven’t asked us if we want to have a long conversation with you or hear about all these things. Why didn’t you ask us? Just because you are being friendly, doesn’t mean that you might not be making us feel really uncomfortable, or ignoring what we really want. You look like an interesting person and I understand that you’re a tourist and that you seem really social and want to talk even to strangers. But can’t you see that this isn’t the way to do it? At least be a little receptive to us, to see if you’re making us feel embarrassed or uncomfortable.”

Bear In Forest

The museum can’t be beat for beautiful and realistic displays.

You get the idea. You let go of the trap you’re in, and you look at it from the outside, and respond accordingly to the trap itself, not to what they’re saying. The topic of conversation, or the happening that’s going on, is unimportant. Yes, it has its own importance, just like talking about starving kids or learning about some stranger’s life. Those are important, and I don’t mean ‘unimportant’ that way. I mean, those things have their own place and time to discuss and act upon. Right now, you are doing nothing constructive towards them, because all your energy is currently being used to figure out how to no longer be hooked like a fish, how to escape what is happening. Who said you have to be at the mercy of whenever someone else wants to talk about something? Who said that the moment a stranger sits beside you and talks about something, you have to talk to them about it, right then, or it means you ‘don’t care’? You know you care. That isn’t what’s going on. What’s going on is power struggles, ego, control issues, social transgressions, blindness, fears, discomfort, embarrassment, confusion.

So, deal with that. Directly.

SPIT THE HOOK they used to snag you, and deal directly with what is happening: their action of hooking you.

Before you enter even more fears about responding in this way, remember: look at ALL the circumstances, get a clear feel for them, and respond accordingly. Appropriately. Accurately. Sincerely. Honestly. Try to trust your feelings, and forgive your responses. If the person is being kind and you can tell they are good-hearted but are simply not reading your discomfort and they are stepping all over your toes, then respond appropriately. You don’t have to swear and yell and shove them away and call them idiots. You also don’t have to give them false smiles and be wheedling about it. Just state the case, frankly and accurately.

If they are being jerks, then be however that makes you feel. If you’re patient with jerks, then patient. If you’re abrupt with jerks, then abrupt. Be appropriate to how they are, and to how you are feeling. It’s okay to show it. We all respond a little differently. Knowing this tool consciously, will in itself give you some calm clarity, and will naturally ease much of your discomfort. It works when you’re in a situation that is known and can be planned for, such as meetings with people you know. It also works in sudden situations with strangers. Often, people go their whole lives making the people around them uncomfortable, embarrassed, even frightened, and don’t know they’re doing it. Other times, people know they are hurting you, and revel in the feelings of power over you, knowing they have the power and they’ve got you hooked, powerless. Whichever the case is, whether they’re friendly or mean, knowing or innocent, this tool will eventually make it impossible for people to trap you, whether they do it purposely or unwittingly. Because you eventually learn to always spit out the hook they snare you with, and deal directly with the act of being snared.

I have been very kind with people about this, because almost every time it happens, it happens without any conscious maliciousness on their part. Yet I’ve taken this tool far enough that I also feel very comfortable being stern, even aggressive, when I need to be.


A reproduction of the Barkerville, B.C. area; you can’t tell where the real rocks end and the painted background begins.

I remember sitting on a bus once, about a twelve hour ride. For the first part of the ride, this long-haired young man a couple seats in front of me kept fidgeting. Just seemed unsettled, nervous. I didn’t think much on it, but still kept an eye out… on a bus, you never know if someone’s going to jump up to sing a song, or start stabbing and chopping off heads. Finally after a couple hours on the bus, he rose abruptly out of his seat, walked two steps back to face me, and said, “Can I tell you about Jesus?” It took me about a tenth of a second to see the situation in its entirety. A young man, caught up and excited about new beliefs, wanting egotistically to tell people about it all, but it is still all about him, his needs, only in the guise of teaching others. He was being inappropriate, he was not listening to calmness or timing and obviously picked out a ‘victim’ early on and then spent a couple hours fidgeting his courage up to the point where he could make the leap, without any consideration of the other passengers or whether he was embarrassing me… or even if this was something he should be doing. A dozen other things came to me also, including that I’d been semi-dozing with eyes only half open, and that he’d completely startled me out of that nap, without even trying to introduce himself or wake me gently. It was all wrong, in every way, so I spit the hook:

I did not think about talking about Jesus, or letting him down easily, or embarrassment, I just responded to the entire happening, and said loudly and abruptly, “NO!” He jerked around like he’d been slapped, sat down immediately, said not another word to me or anyone, avoided people during bus stops, and that was the end of it. He was being entirely blind and inappropriate, and I responded to that entire situation. And you know what? He will have learned something from that. He’d have thought out the angles, and learned something. And the people around us did, too, I could see it in their faces. Everyone just ‘got it’, that the response was perfect and sincere to the situation.

With other people I respond equally appropriately to the circumstances. If they’re being terrible I’ve literally said, “Fuck off, go away. You’re being awful.” And to others, “I am so sorry. Maybe I would like to talk about this or listen to you some time, but right now I’m a million miles away and I want to stay in my own space. Sorry about that, please don’t feel uncomfortable.” With others, I can gently or sternly take them to task if they’re really overstepping. Sometimes the circumstances are such that my response is to simply sit and listen. Not get drawn in, not rebuke or send them away, just sit and abide through it, kindly, patiently, quietly, let it happen and let it pass, as all things do. Other times the situation lets me know that I am fine to begin a conversation with this person, actually get into it. There is no predetermined right or wrong response, we must feel that out differently in each situation. But in each case, I immediately spit out the hook they’ve snagged me with, step back, look at what is really happening, and try to honestly respond to that. Respond not to the hook they are trying to set into me, but respond to the entire situation. The essential practice is not in how you respond, but in making sure you are not hooked, wriggling.

You can even spit out your own hook that has trapped your own mind. Sometimes you’ll be caught up in yelling at others, or trying to work out a tricky situation, or just in some rant or thought or action you can’t seem to stop yourself from doing. Maybe now, this tool will start to arise in your memory during those times. You can spit out whatever you are ranting at or thinking about, and say to yourself or anyone who’s on the receiving end, “Hold it. Wow, am I ever ranting. I am so mad. Or Confused or worried. This is really taking its toll on me. Oh, I can see now you’re really stressing too. Forget what I was just on about, let’s talk about how lost I am in this, right now… holy cow, look how lost I have become into it.” You can step back from your own hook, and look at how hooked you are, deal with that directly. This works in situations as benign as someone showing you too many family pictures in the photo album, to the point of discomfort, and right on up to overbearing or threatening people who are trapping you in fear and intimidation. You can go from ‘Okay, that’s all for me. Too many pictures now, they’re great but my brain is becoming mush’, all the way up to ‘Back off or I’ll call for help. What you’re saying is no longer important, it’s what you’re DOING! You’re being threatening and scary, stop this or I’ll take some kind of action’. Get off their hook, what they’re talking about, and deal with what is really happening.

I owe this to myself, you owe this to yourself, so that we don’t dwell in powerlessness, bitterness, anger, rage, animosity, blindness, resentment towards situations and towards people who entrap us, make us feel powerless, wriggling. Escape the trap, look at the trap for what it is, and respond accordingly. No list needed, you don’t plan it out. You are in the moment, free-form, when you learn this tool well. Your mind becomes like a fish swimming. Free. You don’t need to plan out what to do and say during possible uncomfortable encounters; when you learn to spit what they’ve hooked you with, to step back and look at what is happening, and respond accordingly to the happening and not the hook, you become clear and free in your dealings with people. Your ways of responding to what they are doing to you… are so honest, that you will be improving and clearing your mind, improving and clearing their minds, and improving and clearing the minds of those around you who see how you are dealing with tricky situations.

It doesn’t go away. You can’t just wish people to go away, for bad situations to go away. So since you have to deal with it in some way, why not accept that it’s happening… but instead of being trapped into dealing with whatever topic they are forcing on you, deal with what they are DOING to you. Make it real, say it out loud, deal with that part of the situation. Doing so will actually take you, and them, to a whole new place of clarity, knowledge, sincerity, growth.

It takes awhile for this one to sink in. Once this tool sinks in to you, the hook never again will. The moment it tries, you’ll always be aware of the hook, you’ll avoid it where you can, and when you can’t avoid it, at least now you’ll know how to spit it out. Literally make yourself spit the hook, when you feel your mind is trapped and you’re wriggling. Back up out of the topic, let it become unimportant, and respond to what is REALLY happening.

You’ll get better at it. Sometime when you’re hooked, you’ll start to recognize that you’re hooked, just like I’ve described in some of my stories here. You might not figure out, or have the courage, to spit the hook right away, or look at what is really happening and deal with it appropriately… but simply knowing your mind is hooked, is the first step. The rest will follow. Become aware of the hook. Later, the spitting will all be done naturally by you, you’ll get so good at it.


Pioneer Homestead

Each display in the museum is built to transport you to that time and place. Even an old pioneer homestead gets the complete treatment with cabin and tools, wagons, fence, mud, snowy hills, horse and chickens.

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