99 – Presence Podcast Interview

Audio from a recent interview I did on Presence Podcast about Life Lessons.
Are the stories you tell yourself real?
How do you deal with your most sensitive emotions?
Is there such a thing as good and bad?
How do you define love?
If you enjoy this episode, check out the Presence Podcast at presencepodcast.com/

Transcript:

Noah Rasheta:
Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 99. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today I’m doing something a little bit different. I was recently interviewed on another podcast called Presence Podcast that was recently started out by my friend Kenn Sullivan. In an effort to help promote Kenn’s new podcast, he’s allowed me to share the audio of our recent interview here as an episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. So, if you enjoy this episode, please check out Kenn’s new podcast and subscribe. It’s called Presence Podcast, and you can find it on iTunes and all the other main podcasting places. And now, I give you the audio of episode number four, Life Lessons with Noah Rasheta on Presence Podcast.

Kenn Sullivan:
You are listening to the Presence Podcast, episode number four. And I am your host, Kenn Sullivan. And today, I have a very special guest with me, Noah Rasheta. Noah hosts the amazing Secular Buddhism Podcast. I love and appreciate his perspective and uncanny ability to teach with analogies and metaphors. And so, I really thought it would be an awesome opportunity. And I also appreciate very much, Noah, the positive impact that I can see that you’re having on the world. How is the podcast doing so far?

Noah Rasheta:
It’s doing really well, continues to grow month over month and year over year. So, really excited about it.

Kenn Sullivan:
Awesome. So, why don’t you take a minute just to tell any of our listeners about the series of workshops or anything else that you’ve been working on recently?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, so the thing I’ve been working on most recently is just the content for the podcast. I am trying to develop an online workshop series, mostly kind of explaining the fundamentals of what mindfulness is, and kind of like a Buddhism 101 type course. That’s still in the works. But for the most part, people can go to the podcast and listen to the beginning. The first five episodes are intended to be kind of a summary of basic Buddhist philosophy and concepts. That’s what I’ve been working on.

Kenn Sullivan:
Online workshop? Or is it an in-person workshop?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. No, my goal is to do an online workshop that people can subscribe to and just take it on their own time. And I don’t know if it’ll be like a series of videos. I think it’ll be a combination of videos and content to read through. But all web based.

Kenn Sullivan:
Awesome. Do you do anything … I know you were talking about your trip to Nepal. Do you want us to mention anything about that right now? Or because you already have such a big waiting list, should we not talk about that?

Noah Rasheta:
We could mention it, mostly for next year because I will do it again. But yeah, this one is totally booked and has a long wait list.

Kenn Sullivan:
So, is that the only thing that you’re doing when it comes … Like, having people … Like, any mindfulness or meditation type sessions that you’re doing in person?

Noah Rasheta:
It is right now. I’m considering doing a retreat while I’m down in Mexico. But it’s just an idea at this point. But I do think it’s very likely that while I’m down there, I’ll host some kind of a mindfulness retreat in person.

Kenn Sullivan:
Nice. You know, and I hadn’t even thought about this, but now that we’re talking about it, I should invite you to come and help out with one of our upcoming Surrender Lab sessions or retreats. We can talk more about that later.

Noah Rasheta:
Cool.

Kenn Sullivan:
When we were having lunch down at The Vertical Diner in Salt Lake about a month ago or whatever it was, I just thought it was really powerful when you were describing your experiences volunteering in Africa, and how you started seeing that you were having potentially more of a negative impact than a positive one while you were building schools and stuff. Do you want to briefly touch on that?

Noah Rasheta:
Sure. Yeah, I think sometimes we get in our mind the idea that we have so much to offer to other cultures or to other countries, and Africa is one of those where the general mindset is, “I’m going to go to Africa because they need my help or they need our help.” And you get there and it’s a pleasant surprise to discover that for the most part, it’s like, no, you get to go there and learn from their culture and spend time with them and see how happy most of them are living out in conditions that we would consider extreme poverty or we would think, “Oh wow, these poor people who live this way.”

Noah Rasheta:
And yet, they’re out there and it works and they’re happy. And often times when we come over there and we’re trying to instill our way of thinking and our set of standards of, “Well, this is a good way of living, and you need this from us,” it can be detrimental because it’s like, well, who’s to say that our way of living is the right way or any better than their way. And that was a fun experience to go out there with a group of volunteers, kind of with the initial mindset of, “Well, what do we have to offer?” Only to have the roles reversed and realize how much African culture and Africa in general has to offer us Westerner’s perspective on ways of living and what truly matters in life.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yeah, I remember you talking about how they would make a little soccer ball out of … What was it again? Like wrapped up plastic bags or something?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, like plastic bags like you’d get at the store just wadded up and then one wrapped over another, over another, until it’s big enough to be a soccer ball.

Kenn Sullivan:
That’s so awesome. But over and over, you just saw they were just so happy. And then, talk about how you started to perceive that you started to have this potentially an actual negative impact. Wasn’t there an experience with one of the kids that you started … What was your first aha in that?

Noah Rasheta:
We were briefed that we should be careful to bring toys. For example, you have all these kids who are playing with sticks and bottles or whatever they have available there. And they’re using their imagination. And then you bring a toy or something out of your backpack and then you hand it to one, and it kind of creates this moment of instability because it’s like, “Well, wait a second. Why does one kid get a toy now? What do you have for all the other kids?” And it’s like, by trying to introduce something that wasn’t there before, you’re actually creating more problems. And now the kids might be fighting over the one toy that they didn’t have before, or things like that.

Noah Rasheta:
I don’t recall seeing that scenario exactly. But they had briefed us when we got there to be cautious of that. Don’t just give people stuff, because those are the kind of situations that you could present to them that we wouldn’t have thought of because we’re just thinking, “Everybody would want what I have,” and that’s not necessarily true, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Right. We like to project ourselves onto the world, don’t we?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. We do.

Kenn Sullivan:
Okay, so if I was to ask you then, what would you say have been … I mean, you and I have some pretty similar backgrounds. And if I was to ask you what you would say as of this point in time what your very biggest life lesson has been so far, what would you say is the top of the list?

Noah Rasheta:
That’s a really good question. And I would have to say my biggest life lesson so far is the realization that the stories that I have about life, about myself, about others, are just that. They’re stories. And they seem so real, and they may not be. And I think the biggest aha moment I’ve had in my life so far was the realization that the story I have about myself, specifically myself, is also just a story, and not realizing how bound I was by that story. In this case, for me specifically, it was around … I was losing my company. I’ve always been an entrepreneur, and it was instilled in me this idea of being an entrepreneur. And I didn’t realize how I had fused my sense of identity with this label of a way of living, right? Being an entrepreneur is something that you do, it’s not who you are. And yet, here I was thinking this is who I am.

Noah Rasheta:
And years after having built up a big company that was successful, when the company started having problems and it was failing, it was a really painful experience. And I was able to kind of sit with the experience as it was unfolding to really explore, “Why does this hurt so much? This kind of stuff happens all the time. It’s not like I’m losing my life over this. But why does it hurt so much?” And I realized how my sense of identity was totally wrapped up in that label, and the label was getting ready to go away. That was a big aha moment for me that made me … it kind of dominoed into other aspects of my life where I realized I’ve been so attached to these stories of, “This is who I am, or this is who you are, or this is how life is.” And every now and then, something comes along and it kind of crushes that story and it makes you realize it was just a story all along. That was a big aha moment for me.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yeah. I mean, I have story after story after story I could tell about the ahas I’m constantly having. Okay, so I get that big time. I have come to the point in my own life where I realize that I am just projecting into the past and just projecting into the future as if I am potentially right about any of those thoughts. And really, they’re only my observations and they’re only my perspective. And if I try to project those, like walking around like I use to, I liken this to thinking exclusively versus inclusively. I used to walk around thinking that I had this most special way to believe, and that eventually I was going to help those around me come around to my special way of believing.

Kenn Sullivan:
And I’ve migrated to a much more inclusive kind of a mindset where I love just looking into people’s black round pupils in their eyes and saying, “What do you have to teach me? Because you’re the only single person who’s having this observation vantage point.” And what I’ve been discovering is that every single person, especially the ones who are completely different than me, people that I would typically have not wanted to gravitate towards in the past, they become my biggest teachers. And so, I’ve just become so grateful for the whole of it, for all of us.

Kenn Sullivan:
I mean, you’ve got the guy down at the grocery store who’s really nice and everything. But then the longer you talk to him, the more you find out that he’s got all these little other idiosyncrasies that bother you. And you’ve got the girl over at the post office who, she seems real pleasant when you start talking to her, and then as soon as you talk to her a little bit longer, you find out that she’s got all these little idiosyncrasies that you don’t want to talk … And we just find all these differences when we’re identifying with our minds and seeing ourselves as these individuals. I can totally relate with what you’re talking about in my own life. Anything else that you have said would be, “Okay, this would be another life lesson.”

Noah Rasheta:
I think another big life lesson that I’ve had is concerning my emotional states. I feel like we go through life chasing after certain emotional states and chasing away other emotional states. And I thought that was kind of the point of life, right? You’re trying to get more of this and less of that, if this is happiness and that is sadness, for example. And that’s another one of those aspects of life that I’ve come to realize the rollercoaster of life is it’s the whole thing. It’s the ups and the downs, the fast and the slow. The moments where you’re elated, and the moments where you feel like throwing up, right? And it’s all of that.

Noah Rasheta:
And part of the anguish that we experience on the ride is because we don’t want the whole ride. We only want the pleasant parts. And I’ve spent time understanding that for me personally in my own individual experience of being alive, it’s become … there’s much more contentment with the experience of being alive, now that I feel like I’ve put the various emotions and experiences on equal ground. An instance where I may feel happy is just as unique and precious as an instance where I may be feeling sad, because both of them are unique in and of themselves, kind of like what you’re describing with looking at someone in their eyes and recognizing you’re experiencing a vantage point that nobody else is experiencing in life. I feel like I’ve come to see all of my own relationships with my thoughts and feelings and emotions in that same way, where whatever I’m experiencing in that moment is precious because that’s the thing I’m experiencing. So, that’s been a really neat transition to not feel such a strong aversion towards some emotions, and such a strong clinging towards other emotions.

Kenn Sullivan:
Oh my, so much. I used to be ashamed of feeling certain emotions, and I would try to suppress them as fast as I possibly could using any little tactic to just … So, we just end up skipping the now by just acting like our emotion isn’t real. And you’re saying to sit with it. What kind of language do you use? I know the words that I use, but I’d love to hear your language about how you talk about good and bad as it relates to how you used to view good and bad, and what you would call good, if anything, or a greater good, if anything?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. I’ve for the most part eradicated the concept of good and bad out of my mind. I try to view everything in the context of skillful versus unskillful, and especially when it comes to experiences. As I’m having an experience, I realize I can have a skillful reaction or relationship with the experience as it’s unfolding, or it can be a highly unskillful reaction. And that’s kind of the angle that I take, rather than thinking, “Oh, it was bad that I felt this way and that I said this and that I did that,” I just see it more as, “That wasn’t very skillful of me because now I can see that at the time, that feeling felt so wrong to have that feeling that I was pushing it away, and it caused this spiral of reactions.” And I try to view it in that context, skillful versus unskillful.

Kenn Sullivan:
I like that. I like that.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. I’ve extended that to whether these are things that I’m feeling inside, or also the interactions that I’m having with other people, conversations that we’re having, always in that context of, what is the most skillful way to navigate this?

Kenn Sullivan:
Sounds awesome. I like it. I like it a lot. The way I have been saying it to myself, and I like this, I’m actually going to be thinking about this a lot, that I have found that all of the good that I used to call good in the past has given me happiness. And then, all the things that I call bad gave me unhappiness. And like you’re saying, I just have found that life just is what it is anyway, and I can never control what anybody else is going to choose to do around me. And so, by surrendering to the reality that it’s always now and I have to just accept what is, I’ve gotten to this place where I’ve seen all of the things that I used to call good and bad as just all part of this, what I’ve been calling the greater good, that it’s all just there anyway. It just is what it is. And if I just accept the beingness of it, then I can have actual peace of mind.

Kenn Sullivan:
I’ve found that the only place that I’ve been able to actually feel the power of the feeling of love that I can’t put into words because words are just constructs that I can’t talk about this experience of what it means to feel love, the only place I can ever feel it is in the now. And it seems like it’s inclusive of all of it. I mean, I think it was Gilbran’s, The Prophet, that book The Prophet. And he uses this analogy of the wing, the loving swan or whatever kind of bird it was that reaches out with its wings and brings you in and loves you in. And when you get in there, you realize there’s also these sharp points that you have to deal with. And it’s like all the good and bad is all just there and is what it is. And we can either complain and just keep on suffering or we can choose to just accept and find that there is a way past suffering. What would you say that you have learned about suffering, Noah?

Noah Rasheta:
Well, number one that often the greatest source of suffering that I may be experiencing is self inflicted. And that’s usually centered around these stories, right? Like, the moment I want something to be other than how it is, that feeling that I would describe as suffering, that’s what arises. And it’s a tricky one because even if I want to not want things to be how they are, I’m caught in that same trap again. So, it entails not just recognizing this is how things are, but recognizing those moments where I don’t want things to be how they are, and I can except that … You know, it’s almost like that idea of it’s okay sometimes that it’s not okay, right?

Kenn Sullivan:
Right.

Noah Rasheta:
That’s also a form of acceptance.

Kenn Sullivan:
Right. Got to accept it, right? It is what it is.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah. And so, what I strive to do in moments like that is just to seek more understanding. Like, why does this matter so much to me? Why am I feeling this? Where does this come from? And being as introspective as I can, and there’s often something pretty revealing to be learned about myself when I’m willing to do that internal exploration, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Totally. What would you say you have learned as it pertains to self deception and self honesty?

Noah Rasheta:
That one’s tricky. I read this book that I really enjoyed called Hidden Motives. And it talks about why we do some of the things that we do, and the reality is sometimes we don’t know. Sometimes we do. If you’re willing to be honest to yourself, you may realize, “Oh, this is why I’m being nice to this person because I’m wanting to get something out of it,” or something like that. There’s always some kind of a hidden motive. And sometimes we can identify it, and sometimes we just can’t. We’re just conditioned by our upbringing, our societal views, perhaps religious views, different things that kind of makes us who we are and make us do things and say things and think things. And we may not even know that that’s why we do it. And I feel like it’s been important to recognize that there are instances where I just don’t know. I’m not sure … I may not know, and that’s okay too.

Noah Rasheta:
But the instances that I’m most concerned about are the ones where I am deceiving myself or pretending that this is why I’m doing this, when in reality, I’m not. It’s like, “No, I’m actually doing this …” You know? Like Facebook is a good example of this. You get on there and there’s some conversation happening, and you’re like, “Oh, I’m going to comment on there.” And it’s like, “Yeah, because I want to resolve this debate that’s being had on this thread.” And if you were to really dig deeper, you may discover, “No, I just want others to know that I consider myself to be pretty darn smart on this topic.” You know? It could be something like that, that if you were honest with yourself, you may find that. And that’s been a fascinating thing for me.

Noah Rasheta:
Again, never projecting this out, like, “Oh, that’s why they’re saying this.” I don’t know why they’re doing it. But it’s very interesting when you spend the time and realize, “Oh, that’s why I’m reacting this way. That’s why I want to say this or do that.” So, for me, it’s always about what can I learn about myself in this situation, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
I like that. What would you say about … How do you view the whole concept of complaining versus gratitude?

Noah Rasheta:
Complaining versus gratitude? I feel like if we were to look at this, for me it seems like it’s a matter of perspective. When my perspective is narrow or shortsighted, it’s easy to complain about something. But the bigger I can make my perspective, like zooming out and seeing a bigger picture, it’s usually more natural to feel a sense of gratitude. For example, you’re standing in a long line and it’s like, “Why do I have to be standing in this line?” But you zoom out a little bit and realize all these intricate pieces of the puzzle that are taking place that are making it this way. And it’s not about me, you know? The line has zero interest in my experience of how long I have to stand in it. Others are standing in the line too.

Noah Rasheta:
And I feel like when I can do that, and I can take a moment and see the bigger picture, gratitude arises naturally. And I have a question that I like to bring up when I’m experiencing these moments. For example, at a red light you’re like, “I’m stuck at the red light.” I like to pause and say, “What did it take for this moment to arise?” And then I just look around. And sometimes I’ll look down … I’ve done this were I’ll look down at the dashboard and all the buttons and all the little intricate things that went into the design of my car. I’m like, “Where did this button come from? I wonder who designed this. I wonder who popped that little button into place. Maybe it was a robot. If it was a robot, was someone controlling it? If it was software, who designed that software?” And suddenly you can take a little moment to ask yourself, “What did it take for this moment to arise?” And suddenly you’re overwhelmed with gratitude.

Noah Rasheta:
I’ve done this with a red light itself. Like, whose idea was that? Because that’s pretty brilliant. If it was only green lights, we’d have all chaos. But because sometimes it’s red and sometimes it’s green, it works best for the traffic on both sides, the guys going left and right and the ones going straight up and down. So yeah, I feel like gratitude arises naturally with a bigger perspective. And with a smaller perspective, it’s hard to feel grateful because all we care about is how this is effecting us and our narrow view.

Kenn Sullivan:
So true. It’s all about the perspective we’re choosing to focus on at that exact moment. So, it just seems like a masterful question to ask because it takes your attention immediately to some other thing, other than the fact that, “This is not a good thing that I’m sitting here waiting in this line or in traffic,” or whatever it is.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah.

Kenn Sullivan:
That’s awesome. I love that. I’ll be asking myself that exact same question. What did it take for this moment to arise? I like it a lot.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah.

Kenn Sullivan:
Okay, so how do you talk about our ego and the benefits versus how we get trapped in our ego? How do you summarize the whole concept for yourself of the ego being either the pilot or the co-pilot or however you talk about that? I’d love to hear your perspective on this.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, I think ego is a tricky one for me. I view the ego very much as it’s the tricky thing that the ego’s the one that’s talking about the ego, right? So, it makes it kind of complicated to explain the ego because there’s me as this body that has blood flowing through it, it has a brain with electrical waves that make it think things. And I’m experiencing all of that. And then there’s the one that’s experiencing it, and then there’s the part of me that observes the experience. And I’m not entirely sure what the ego is, if it’s just an illusion, if it’s a construct, if it’s an illusion of an illusion, how deep does that go?

Noah Rasheta:
And I’ve joked before that I were able to peek behind the curtains to see the ego, what I would see is myself peeking behind the curtain seeing the ego, you know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Right.

Noah Rasheta:
And that’s kind of how I view it. I don’t know. I think the ego would be the one seeing itself, I guess. So, I try to remind myself, I have this natural thing that arises in me because I’m human that we would call the ego. But that’s not me, because I can’t separate that from the other aspects of me. Like, when I’m eating food, for example, and it’s something that I enjoy, is it really me that likes the flavor? Or is it my taste buds and the DNA that made my taste buds the way that they are that like that flavor, right? Like, did I consciously choose to like this flavor? Some people like Brussels spouts, some people don’t, because of a single gene that determines whether they can have the bitter taste, you know? And so, is it really me that likes something when I’m liking it?

Noah Rasheta:
I don’t know. I think those are really deep questions that are fun to entertain and to think about and explore. So, I like to remind myself in those moments that I feel like there is an ego and that I don’t want that ego to be there is that it’s almost like, is it egotistical to not want the ego to be there? Like, who’s the one who doesn’t want the ego to be there? I would assume that’s the ego. So yeah. That’s always an interesting topic to explore.

Kenn Sullivan:
Such a fascinating thing. I’ve seen it as like this amazing thing that I get to play with. But the more self aware that I’ve become, the more I get to observe, like what you’re saying, that I am just getting to play with it. So, it’s like I’m just this being, the real essence of me is connected to everything and everyone. And I have this beingness of all of that, and then I’ve got this … when I take the focus down to just acting like I am an individual, now everything is all about differences. And yeah, it’s a fascinating conversation. We can talk about that part all day.

Kenn Sullivan:
And I wanted to get your thoughts also on one more thing, and then anything else that you feel like would be good to share. I have had all kinds of experiences lately in what I call lovingly leaning into my edges, the edges of my comfort zones. I’ve had so many conversations with myself about my comfort zones because as I’ve sat and observed and tried to just become more okay with surrendering to everything as it is, I’ve discovered that I have all these actual limits that I’ve built up so far in my programming or whatever, however you want to call it. But what I’ve found is that when I push into the edge of my comfort zone, instead of … Like, I used to just imagine a comfort zone being like a circle around me, whether it’s a physical comfort zone or an emotional comfort zone or a mental comfort zone or a social comfort zone or a spiritual comfort zone, I used to get out toward the edge and I would feel the pain out there at that edge. And so, I would typically just retreat and come back and live and seek out some kind of a desire instead, all the while staying inside this circle and living this self sabotagingly smaller life than what I could have lived if I would have found out what was outside that circle.

Kenn Sullivan:
And so, as I’ve been lovingly leaning into these edges of any circle, whether it’s like you were mentioning emotional. I mean, I’ve had so many experiences now just sitting with my emotions, being okay with them, watching them as they change. And the new perspectives that I gain because of that, they seem to just be transforming me at such an alarming rate because I’m willing to actually push into that pain that I used to see as something that, “Oh, that’s not a good thing.” But now I’ve seen how helpful it can be and how much more skillful it has made me when it comes to actually now dealing with those same kinds of emotions, different types of agitating circumstances that I go through. What are your thoughts about comfort zones and how have you approached your won comfort zones, Noah?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I feel like as a society, we kind of tend to have what you would call the dualistic mindset where there’s here and there’s there, right? And the concept of the grass is always greener on the other side is the same concept of, “I’m here and I want to be there.” And then, there’s kind of this Eastern way of thinking that says, “Well, there is no there, because the moment you get there, there’s no there there. It’s always here,” right?

Noah Rasheta:
And that way of thinking has translated a little bit into the discussion of comfort zones for me in the context of, there’s my comfort zone and then there’s somewhere else, this other place. Whether it’s more comfortable or less comfortable, it’s some other zone. And I’m playing that same game, I’m here and I want to be there. And I’ve realized that for me in my own practice, what I’m really trying to do, what seems to be more skillful than going from the zone I’m in to some new zone is to become essentially more comfortable with discomfort. Rather than avoiding discomfort, I’m just trying to become more comfortable with discomfort. And that ends up being much more skillful than trying to eradicate all those rough edges that I don’t like, that bring discomfort.

Noah Rasheta:
There’s an analogy about this with a Tibetan poet who was going around the world gathering up leather trying to put leather down on all the rocky edges and all the sharp parts of the world so that he could walk comfortably because he walked barefoot. And someone pointed out to him that, “Wouldn’t it be better to use that leather and make yourself some protection for your feet, and then you can walk anywhere?” And I always thought that was fascinating because it’s like we are going around life trying to patch up all these rough spots where, “I don’t want that one to hurt me, so I’ll go work on that,” rather than focusing on using those same tools to protect the soles of our feet, then we can work anywhere.

Kenn Sullivan:
Oh my. Yeah.

Noah Rasheta:
So, I like that as a visual when I’m thinking about the context of comfort zones. I’m always wondering what am in doing to make my leather shoes or my feet more prone to talking on more difficult terrain? Rather than avoiding the difficult terrain in the first place.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yeah. So awesome. I love talking to you, Noah. You are one of my favorite people on the entire planet to talk to, no doubt. I mean, I’m serious. You have a way about you that is just beautiful. You are a beautiful human, and I watch and I get to feel the experience of what it feels like to see and experience your positive impact and feel so much power in that. And I just want to thank you and tell you I’m extremely grateful for our connection. Any last thoughts on anything that you want to talk about at all whatsoever?

Noah Rasheta:
I do want to thank you for the time. I know it takes time and effort to put these things together. And it is an honor that you would want to spend time talking with me. I did have a thought I was thinking earlier. Have you ever heard or come across the Daoist parable of the horse? It’s the like who knows what is good and what is bad parable.

Kenn Sullivan:
Will you tell it real quick? You’re reminding me, I’ve heard somebody tell this. And it’s the … He ends up going on … Yeah, I do know the story, but I can’t recite it.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, well I was thinking about this in the context of what you’ve been talking about with presence, and as we were talking in the first part of the conversation, it was kind of the meaning that we’re making about things being good or being bad. And this is a Daoist parable that comes from China that I’ve always liked. And in its saying the essence of the story is that there was a farmer who had a horse. And the horse showed up out of the blue and his neighbor came running over and said, “How fortunate for you, you have a horse.” And he says, “Well, who knows what is good and what is bad?” And goes about his day.

Noah Rasheta:
And the horse runs away. And the neighbor comes running over and he’s like, “Oh no, your horse is gone. This is horrible.” And the old man says, “Well, who knows what is good and what is bad?” Goes about his activities. The horse comes back with four additional horses. Again, the neighbor comes running over thinking this is a great thing. And then, the farmer’s son is working with one of the horses, gets bucked off and breaks his leg, and the neighbor’s like, “Oh no, this is horrible, your only son.” And the next day the Army comes into town and they’re conscripting all the youth. And they can’t take his son because his leg’s broken. And at some point in the story, it just kind of ends with the neighbor running over to say this is good or this is bad, but instead pauses and says, “Yeah, who knows what is good and what is bad?”

Kenn Sullivan:
Right.

Noah Rasheta:
And that’s kind of the version I’ve heard and what it’s become for me is just this constant reminder that life is happening. At any given moment things are happening, and we are the ones who are pausing and making meaning, “Oh, this is a good thing,” or, “Oh, this is a bad thing,” with very limited perspective of how this experience fits as a piece of the puzzle and the big, big picture that we just can’t see. And how, often times I can look back into my own life and see events that I would have emphatically agreed at the time that these were bad events or unpleasant or all these other things, only to find out later have been pivotal moments that have led to this other thing that down the road I’m like, “Wow, I’m glad that happened because had that not happened, this wouldn’t have happened.” You know?

Kenn Sullivan:
Exactly.

Noah Rasheta:
And I think that’s just a really useful story for us to hear, especially here in the West as we go through life playing this game of assigning meaning to everything and some things are good and somethings are bad, and sometimes just taking a break. And like you always talk about, just be in the moment, just be with what’s happening and stop thinking of this as, “This is a good thing or a bad thing that’s happening to me,” and just say, “This is what’s happening. What does it feel like to be going through this? Where do these emotions come from? Why does it feel this way?” And just becoming more aware of the relationship that we have with our experiences as they’re unfolding. I think that’s what I would end this on as an invitation.

Noah Rasheta:
The whole premise of your podcast with presence is that. You are that story and you’re going … Whoever’s listening, right? You’re listening to this and you’re going through something in your life. This just happened or this other thing’s about to happen. We’re all playing that game. And we’re all waiting to see, “Well, is this thing a good thing or a bad thing?” And what if we could just pause for a moment and think, “I’m not going to assign meaning. I’m just going to really experience this as it unfolds and see what happens?”

Kenn Sullivan:
It’s so hard. It’s so, so hard to not assign meaning because we have all this experience that we immediately start pulling from. It’s like there’s this pressure, like, “I have to call it something. I have to call it something.” And when you let go of that need to feel like you have to be right about it and just say, “What does this feel like? What did it take for this moment to arise? What can I gain from this? How can this …” You know? You talked about when we first started talking how you’re in a back brace because you just sprained your back. I’m in a wrist brace, I just wiped out on my mountain bike. I got a concussion and I hurt both my hands.

Kenn Sullivan:
I just recently went through shoulder surgery. I mean, all these things that … how are they actually playing parts? And if I didn’t have those, who would I have not connected with? What experiences wouldn’t I have had? I think it’s a beautiful way to wrap it up, yeah. You’re awesome, Noah. You’re a beautiful … I love you, brother. I love you so much.

Noah Rasheta:
Thank you very much, I appreciate that. Love you too.

Kenn Sullivan:
This was my absolute pleasure.

Noah Rasheta:
Cool. Well, I’m excited for your podcast and I’m excited just for everything that you’re doing. Fun stuff.

Kenn Sullivan:
Thank you. Thank you. We’re just a couple of hermanos trying to do our part, huh?

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah.

Kenn Sullivan:
When somebody asks you to define love, or if anybody ever does ask you to define love, what do you say? Because words are so limiting.

Noah Rasheta:
Yeah, it really is. I don’t know that I’ve been asked that before. But I think if I were, it would be something like, I know what it is, but I can’t explain it. But I can feel it. And I think of it in the context of my family, right? Like, how would I explain that to my kids, what it is to love them? To me, that’s the perfect example of, “Well, I can’t. But one day you might get to know what that feels like. And then you’ll know how I felt, you know? Being your dad.”

Noah Rasheta:
It’s kind of like with time, it’s like we all kind of know what it is. We’ve invented ways to measure it. But at the same time, I’d love to hear someone really explain what it is because I think if we try, most of us realize, “Actually, I don’t know what it is.” All we know how to do is measure it in the context of, sun comes up or sun goes down. Divide that into a form of measurement, into hours or minutes. And I think with love, sometimes it’s similar. We try to define it, but by defining it, we limit it. And it’s so much more than just doing something for someone, saying something nice. It’s so much more than that. It can’t be defined. It’s just … It’s an experience.

Kenn Sullivan:
Yep, experience. You’re awesome, Noah. Thank you so much. This has been just beautiful. Love it. Thank you so much. I’m very grateful that you were willing to sit down and have a conversation with me.

Noah Rasheta:
Awesome. Well, thank you. I really appreciate it.

About the Author
Noah Rasheta is a Buddhist teacher, lay minister, and author, as well as the host of the podcast Secular Buddhism. He teaches mindfulness and Buddhist philosophy online and in workshops all around the world. He works with others to make the world a better place as he studies, embodies, and teaches the fundamentals of Buddhist philosophy, integrating Buddhist teachings with modern science, humanism, and humor. He lives in Kamas, Utah, with his wife and three kids.