Podcast

152 – A Liberated State of Mind

Liberation is not a destination we strive to reach, it’s a state of mind that is available to us right here and right now. When we fully understand the reality of emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness, we become liberated from the type of thinking that has us trapped in the prison of our own mind.

151 – Observation and Action

Observation in Buddhist practice is an active thing, it’s not passive and it’s not a form of resignation. The skilled observer, observes precisely in order to be able to act more skillfully.

150 – Buddha Nature

In this podcast episode, I share my thoughts about “Buddha nature” and what it means to me. I also share the story of the little rock in my backyard that had a Buddha painted on the rock. When the paint started to fade, I was able to see the buddha nature of that rock.

149 – Firsts and Lasts

Every moment that arises is simultaneously the first time and last time that moment exists. I used to value moments based on their pleasantness or unpleasantness but now I see the beauty of the uniqueness of each moment. In this episode, I will be vulnerable and share my thoughts as I process the recent loss of a loved one.

148 – The Dance of Life

I love thinking about life as a great song, with high notes and low notes and quiet pauses in between each note. I like to think of my relationship to this song as the dance of life. In this episode, I will share my thoughts about going through life as if it were a dance instead of a fight.

Transcript:

Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 148. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m going to talk about the dance of life. Like always, keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learned to be a better whatever you already are. If you’re interested in learning more about Buddhism, check out my book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners on Amazon, or start with the first five episodes of this podcast. You can get to those first five episodes easily by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the start here link. If you’re looking for a community to practice with or to interact with, consider becoming a patron and visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking the link to join our community.

I’ll start out this podcast episode with a quote from Maya Angelou. She says, “Everything in the universe has rhythm. Everything dances.” I’ve been thinking a lot about dance this week, perhaps first and foremost, because dance is a very integral part of my life. My wife owns a dance studio. My kids all dance in dance classes. This week we’re preparing for dance competitions. Perhaps, some of you may know this, some of you may not, but dance was a very important part of my life in college. I was a ballroom dancer, a competitive ballroom dancer, and I competed with a team and we competed worldwide competitions in the UK. I’ve traveled all throughout Europe and all throughout Australia doing tours with ballroom dance. So that’s a very fun stage and part of my life and I want to tie this into a couple of Buddhist concepts with this podcast episode.

Now, you need to know, I know some of you may be listening to this thinking, “I am terrified to go out and dance. I have two left feet,” or, “I would never want to be out on the dance floor.” That’s exactly how I was growing up. I was always afraid to go out and dance. In high school, specifically, I was definitely afraid to go out onto the dance floor. But I think more accurately, it’s that I was afraid to look like a fool who doesn’t know what he’s doing. I think I was afraid to look like a fool because that went against the story that I had of myself, which is the story is that I am someone who does know what they’re doing. Ballroom changed all that. Later in life, in college, when I first moved to Utah, the very first night actually that I arrived in Utah, I went to an elementary school ballroom presentation.

The family that I had moved in with, their daughter was doing a dance in ballroom. I saw a doing a dance and I was mesmerized. First and foremost, it’s really cool looking. But second I remember thinking, “Where can I meet the kind of girls that do this kind of dance?” I was just entering college. I wanted to meet people and I was mesmerized by this, and at the same time, quite intimidated because, again, I’ve always been afraid to dance. So I signed up for ballroom classes in college and that’s pretty much it. That was the start of a new phase. All throughout college, I danced and I ended up eventually being on scholarship for dancing and being able to tour the world thanks to ballroom dance.

So ballroom is a fun part of my past, a fun part of my memory. Here’s the secret. I’m going to let you in on the secret with ballroom. In ballroom dance, you memorize the steps. So for me to memorize the steps, once I had a pretty wide or pretty vast catalog of steps that I could do, then you just choreograph a dance routine based on the steps that you know. So pretty quickly I was able to work my way up to the point where I was dancing competitively, but I was never out there having to rely on my creativity to come up with dance moves. These were choreographed routines, whether it was just with my partner competing or as a team doing synchronized choreographed dance steps.

So I think that’s why I enjoyed it so much because I didn’t have to look like I didn’t know what I was doing. All I had to do is memorize all these routines and all these dance steps, and then I would look like I really knew what I was doing. So that’s my experience with dance in college. That’s actually how I met my wife was through our circles of friends throughout the ballroom dance stage of my life. Okay. So enough of that. When I think about life, I think about dance and music, because it seems that many of us go through life thinking that happiness, or contentment perhaps is a better word, is something that we’re always going to achieve tomorrow, not today. It’s always the possibility that it’s something I will experience tomorrow or at some future date.

But as we all know, tomorrow never comes. We spend our whole lives waiting for life to start. Unfortunately, we’ve been conditioned to search for happiness or for contentment as if it was something that’s out there somewhere else. It’s not here and it’s certainly not now. It’s something that we’ve been conditioned in a way that we no longer recognize the relationship that contentment has to the here and now. The contentment and joy that we seek, it’s quite frankly, hidden in plain sight often right in front of our noses. This is why the core teachings of Buddhism and mindfulness practice focus so heavily on getting us to experience this present moment, to observe things just as they are right here and right now.

What did it take for this moment to arise? It’s the question that I bring up often, and when I fully ponder that question, gratitude generally followed by contentment is what arises naturally. It’s not a fake pretend to be grateful type feeling. For me often, that question, what did it take for this moment to arise, with introspection almost generates one of those holy cow moments where you realize everything that it took for this moment to arise, those feelings for me are pretty genuine and pretty real. Contentment is something that’s been with us all along, hiding under the conditioning that it exists somewhere else or at a different time, when in reality, it’s here and it’s now.

There’s a powerful snippet of audio that I want to share with you that comes from Alan Watts. Many of you may be familiar with his work. He’s one of my favorites. It’s about life and it’s about music. In a nutshell, it’s about understanding that we don’t simply listen to music just to hear that last note. We don’t sit and eat a meal just so we can enjoy the very last bite. We don’t read a book just so that we can finally read the last page. Certainly, we don’t watch movies just because of the closing scene. It’s always been about the whole process.

It’s about the ups and the downs, the challenges and the triumphs, the pleasant and the unpleasant, because it’s the whole song that matters, the high notes, the low notes, and even those silent pauses in between each note and our relationship to that song is what I like to think of as our dance or the dance of life. So let me share this little audio snippet with you. This is from Alan Watts. It’s only a couple of minutes long.

In music, though, one doesn’t make the end of the composition the point of the composition. If that were so, the best conductors would be those who played fastest. And there would be composers who only wrote finales. People would go to a concert just to hear one crackling chord, because that’s the end. Same way with dancing. You don’t aim at a particular spot in the room, that’s where you should arrive. The whole point of the dancing is the dance.

Now, but we don’t see that as something brought by our education into our conduct. We’ve got a system of schooling which gives a completely different impression. It’s all graded and what we do is put the child into the corridor of this grade system with a kind of, “Come on kitty, kitty, kitty.” You go to kindergarten and that’s a great thing because when you finish that you get into first grade. Then, come on, first grade leads to second grade and so on and then you get out of grade school and you go to high school. It’s revving up, the thing is coming, then you’re going to go to college.

By [inaudible 00:09:29], you get into graduate school. And when you’re through with graduate school, you go out to join the world. Then you get into some racket where you’re selling insurance and they’ve got that quota to make and you’re going to make that. All the time, that thing is coming, it’s coming, it’s coming, that great thing, the success you’re working for.

Then you wake up one day about 40 years old and you say, “My God, I’ve arrived. I’m there,” and you don’t feel very different from what you’ve always felt. It’s a slight letdown because you feel you’ve been hoaxed, and there was a hoax, a dreadful hoax. They made you miss everything. We thought of life by analogy with a journey, with a pilgrimage, which has a serious purpose at the end, and the thing was to get to that end, success or whatever it is, or maybe heaven after you’re dead. But we missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or to dance while the music was being played.

So I hope that audio clip inspires you the way that it inspires me when I listen to it. I feel like a lot of times we are raised with the mentality of fighting. It’s almost like here you are, you’re alive and you’re just struggling, wrestling with life. There’s almost a tone of aggression that comes with it. I see this come out from time to time in anything that we do, whether it’s the aggression I feel towards overcoming the ego or the aggression I feel towards being successful in life. There’s almost an aggression, a fight as you will. I think a lot of this is conditioned. It’s a societal thing.

I see this all the time, the mindset of a struggle or a fight when I’m teaching people new skills, specifically with paragliding. The very first step you take when you’re going to learn to fly is how to control the wing. The wing is a giant piece of fabric that you can imagine a kite. If you were to take a kite in the park, if you let the wind take that kite and the string holds the kite up in the air, it just flies on its own. Well, a paraglider is a very intricate kite. It’s attached to all these strings that are attached to you, and when the wind inflates that wing over your head, you learn to control it, how to keep it directly over your head, rather than flailing off to the left or to the right.

But when people are first learning to handle one of these paraglider wings, you watch and what you see is a struggle, you see the fight. I have to talk to my students quite regularly as they’re learning this process, to remind them to stop fighting. You’re not fighting this thing. The reason is because a fight against the wing and the wind is a fight you’ll never win. You can’t. The wind is infinitely stronger than we are, and you just can’t win that fight. So I always tell them, “You’re not learning to wrestle with the wing or to fight the wing. What you’re learning to do is dance with the wing.”

The wing wants to fly in the wind and when you develop the little intricacies of lead and follow. The wing does this so I do that, and because I do that, now the wing does this, and because the wing does this, now I do that. That’s the name of the game. It’s just like a lead and follow dance. Now, if you have any dance experience, the concept of lead and follow makes sense where you are dancing with a partner. Because of the way that you move your hand or the slight a way that you twist your wrist or your thumb, your partner knows what move comes next so they follow and that’s the idea of lead and follow.

I think this concept is brought up, I’ve mentioned it before, with the idea of the do happening that Alan Watts also talks about in another lecture where life is like that. It’s a do happening. You do something so something happens, and because something happens, then you do something and then that’s the name of the game, the do happening. I think the lead follow dance is very similar. At least that’s how life makes sense to me. I think there are some very powerful implications that arise when we think about this switch of the mindset from a struggle to a dance.

Think about the notion of struggling with your ego. What if it’s not a struggle? What if it’s I’m dancing with my ego? Or even more powerful, I’m struggling with my emotions. What if it’s not a struggle? I’m learning to dance with my emotions, the dance of sadness, the dance of happiness, the dance of joy, the dance of gratitude. These are all emotions that we’re going to experience because life is like that song and there are the high notes and there are the low notes. When you lose a loved one, or you’re preparing to lose a loved one, you’ll be experiencing low notes, and there’s a dance that can be done with the… I like to think of it as the relationship I have with the song during the low notes.

Then there’s a relationship I have with a song during the high notes. There’s a relationship I have with the song during the pauses, and those moments of silent, of nothingness. For me, that’s the relationship of the dance of life. Now, I want to bring to mind another visual here, another concept. This comes from Hinduism. In Hinduism, you learn about Shiva. Shiva is the cosmic dancer. There’s a quote from a book that I want to share with you. The book is called The Tell-Tale Brain by VS Ramachadran. It’s a very fascinating book about neuroscience and psychology. There’s this part in the book that talks about Shiva, the cosmic dancer and this idea of the dance of life and I want to share it with you.

If you have the book, you can find this on page 239 and 240 of the book. But the quote, it’s kind of a long one. I’m going to share several paragraphs with you, but it goes like this. “In Chennai, Madras, there is a bronze gallery in the state museum that houses a magnificent collection of Southern Indian bronzes. One of its prized works is the 12th century Nataraja. One day, around the turn of the 20th century, an elderly foreigner, a gentlemen was observing, gazing at the Nataraja in awe. To the amazement of the museum guards and patrons, he went into a sort of trance and proceeded to mimic the dance postures. A crowd gathered around, but the gentleman seemed oblivious until the curator finally showed up to see what was going on.

He almost had the poor man arrested until he realized the European was none other than the world famous sculptor, Auguste Rodin. Rodin was moved to tears by the dancing Shiva. In his writing, he referred to it as one of the greatest works of art ever created by human mind. You don’t have to be religious or Indian or even Rodin to appreciate the grandeur of this bronze. At the very literal level, it depicts the cosmic dance of Shiva who creates, sustains and destroys the universe. But the sculpture is much more than that. It’s a metaphor of the dance of the universe itself, of the movement and energy of the cosmos. The artist depicts the sensation through the skillful use of many devices.

For example, the centrifuge motion of Shiva’s arms and legs flailing in different directions, and the way tresses flying off his head symbolize the agitation of frenzy of the cosmos. Yet, right in the middle of this turbulence, this fitful fever of life is the calm spirit of Shiva himself. He gazes at his own creation with the supreme tranquility and poise. How skillfully the artist has combined these seemingly antithetical elements of movement and energy on the one hand, an eternal peace and stable god, if you like, is conveyed partly by Shiva’s slightly bent left leg, which gives him balance and poise, even in the midst of this frenzy, and partly by his serene tranquil expression, which conveys a sense of timelessness.

In some Nataraja sculptures, this peaceful expression is replaced by an enigmatic half smile as though the great god were laughing at life and death alike. This sculpture has many layers of meaning, and Indologists like Heinrich Zimmer and Ananda Coomaraswamy wax lyrically about them. While most Western sculptures try to capture a moment or a snapshot in time, the Indian artists tries to convey cyclic nature of creation and destruction of the universe, a common theme in Eastern philosophy, which is also occasionally hit upon by thinkers in the West.

I’m reminded in particularly a Fred Hoyle’s theory of the oscillating universe. One of Shiva’s right hands holds a tambour, which beats the universe into creation and also represents perhaps the pulse beat of animate matter. But one of his left hands holds the fire and not only eats up and energizes the universe, but also consumes it, allowing destruction to perfectly balance out creation and the eternal cycle. So it is that they perfectly balance out creation in the eternal cycle and so it is that the Nataraja conveys the abstract paradoxical nature of time, all-devouring yet ever-creative.

Below Shiva’s right foot is the hideous demonic creature called Apasmara or the illusion of ignorance, which Shiva is crushing. What is this illusion? It’s the illusion that all of us scientific types suffer from, that there is nothing more to the universe than the mindless gyrations of atoms and molecules and there is no deeper reality behind appearances. It is also the delusion in some religions that each of us has a private soul who is watching the phenomena of life from his or her own special vantage point. It is the logical delusion that after death, there is nothing but a timeless void.

Shiva is telling us that if you destroy this illusion and seek solace under his raised left foot, which he points to with one of his left hands, you will realize that behind external appearances, there is a deeper truth. Once you realize this, you see that far from being an aloof spectator here to briefly watch the show until you die, you are in fact part of the ebb and flow of the cosmos, part of the cosmic dance of Shiva himself. With this realization comes immortality or Moksha, liberation from the spell of illusion and union with the supreme truth of Shiva himself. There is in my mind no greater instantiation of the abstract idea of god as opposed to a personal god than the Shiva Nataraja. As the art critic, Coomaraswamy, says, ‘This is poetry, but it is science nonetheless’.” Again, that’s a thought and expression that’s shared in VS Ramachadran’ book, The Tell-Tale Brain, pages 239 and 240.

What I tried to convey in this podcast episode is the subtle mental shift from thinking life is a struggle, that it’s some kind of a test or some kind of a thing that you need to fight against. What if we viewed it as the music of being alive and the dance that we experience to that music? For me, this is a really fun visual. I love Alan Watts talking about music and life, right? Being alive as like the music, the high notes, the low notes, the pauses of silence in between the notes. It’s all part of the song and we’re not here just to experience the high notes. We’re not here just to avoid those low notes. We’re not here just waiting for that final note. We’re here for the whole song, the ups and the downs, the pause and everything in between.

The relationship we have to the music of being alive, for me, is the dance. That’s the dance of life. Just like I tell my students when they’re learning to fly a paraglider, “Stop fighting, you’re not fighting this thing. You’ll never win that. Learn to dance with it.” I hope that as we go through life, I hope that as I go through life, this is a concept that I’ll never forget. As I am learning to be a parent of young kids, I’m dancing with that. As I’m learning to be the parent of teenagers, that’s a new style of dance. As I learn to navigate the ups and downs of daily life at work or dealing with the inconveniences of a flat tire or whatever it is that I’m dealing with, it’s a dance. I don’t need to fight it.

I don’t need to fight the emotions that I feel, the thoughts that arise in my mind, the feelings that I’m experiencing based on the Tetris pieces that life’s throwing at me. It’s not a fight. It’s not a struggle. It’s a dance and that’s what I hope you take away from this specific podcast episode today is that you are a part of the dance of the entire cosmos. The music that’s playing, which I like to think of as the music of life, we’re all experiencing that right now. We’re all alive. We’re all here. The dance that we experience is the trick, right? To see this as a dance.

Just like I see with my students, when they learn to master the art of ground handling their wing, and they’re not fighting it anymore, they essentially learned to dance with it, what happens next is a beautiful thing. They learn to fly. They learn to find comfort, stepping away from that firm foundation that is the earth and they find a new playground where there is nothing to stand on and they’re floating, riding the wind, so to speak. I think that that, to me, that’s what we can learn to do through this, through mindfulness practice, all these ideas, it’s about the dance of being alive and finding comfort and having no firm foundation to stand on. That’s where the plane starts. That’s where it gets to be really fun.

All right. Well, I hope that these concepts and ideas make sense to you. In a nutshell, what I’m saying is stop thinking about this as a fight and start thinking about this as a dance, the dance of life. Try that for the week and see what it does for you, for the relationship you have with your thoughts and feelings and emotions, and the circumstances that you experience as you go through life, receiving all those Tetris pieces that just come your way. Think of it as a dance and see what that does for you. All right. Well, that’s all I have for this specific podcast episode. Thanks as always for listening and until next time.

147 – Dharma Cat

Life has a funny way of teaching us lessons even amidst circumstances or events that we don’t particularly find to be pleasant. In this episode, I will share the story of how we ended up with a 3-legged cat as a pet.

Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 147. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. And today, I’m going to talk about the unexpected joy sometimes comes from difficult events. As always, keep in mind you don’t need to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learn to be a better whatever you already are. If you’re interested in learning more about Buddhism, check out my book, No‑Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners on Amazon or check out the first five episodes of the podcast. You can find those first five episodes easily by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the Start Here link. If you’re looking for a community to practice with and to interact with, consider becoming a patron by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking the link to join our community.

For today’s podcast episode, I wanted to talk a little bit about a new pet that I have, a cat named Taz, specifically a three-legged cat. And I want to tell you this story and tie this in with the overall idea that sometimes unexpected joy comes from difficult circumstances or difficult events. I often refer to the analogy of life being like a Tetris game, where the pieces that show up, we don’t necessarily have control over what those pieces are, but when they do show up, we do the best that we can with those pieces to make them fit the best way we can into the game. And before we know it, we’re dealing with new pieces.

And I really like that analogy and I think it’s important to recognize that this isn’t about liking the pieces that we get, it’s about maintaining a little bit of open curiosity, if we want to call it that, to what this piece may bring, rather than being stuck in the moment, thinking, here I am dealing with this piece that I really don’t like. What if I was able to explore a little bit the idea that while I am interacting with this piece that I don’t necessarily like, what could come of this? Sometimes that mental exploration can give us a sense of hope. And I want to talk about that a little bit.

So Taz is the name of our cat. Now, a little bit of backstory here. I am allergic to cats. I am not the person that you would picture having a cat, because first and foremost, I’m allergic to them. And second, I’ve never really identified, I guess, with cats, they seem to be very interesting personalities, they come around when they want something from you and then they’re gone once they get what they want. At least that’s been my perspective of them throughout most of my life growing up. And that’s why I would consider myself much more of a dog person. Now, my wife is even less of an animal person than I am. She is what you would imagine someone who just doesn’t like animals. She’s the last person I would have ever imagined having an animal.

So that’s, in a nutshell, where we were about six months ago. And the kids have always wanted a pet. And we’ve toyed with the idea of one day having an outdoor dog, but it’s too much work for our lifestyle and for where we live, it gets too cold in the winter. It’d be too much work. So we opted to not have a pet dog. My wife grew up with a pet dog, I also grew up with a pet dog. So that would have seemed like the natural fit. But one day, the kids were asking if they could maybe get a cat. So what happened was my wife’s aunt, so their great aunt had a cat who had kittens and she started calling all of the cousins and all of the cousins were suddenly getting cats.

When our kids found out that all their cousins were getting cats, they started begging us if we could go pick up one of these new kittens and they could have a cat. Now my wife jokingly said, “Well, ask your dad.” Knowing that I was for sure going to say no, because I’m allergic to cats. And I surprised everyone by saying, “Well, sure, maybe, we can.” And right away, she looked at me with this look of concern, like, “What are you talking about?” And we decided, well, maybe if it’s an outdoor cat and it lives outside and we just build a little home for it. And we can put in a heated pad and things to help with the temperature, because it does get cold here where we live, that perhaps it would be a wise to have a cat that patrols around the house because we do live in a rural area, out in the fields where there are mice and those mice will sometimes get into the house. So the first line of defense would be an outdoor cat or so we thought.

And with that in mind, the kids were very excited to know we were going to get a cat. So we went up to the aunt’s house to look at these kittens. And she had already given all of the ones she needed to away to all the cousins. And there were two left that she wanted to give away to someone. And we decided it might be best to take two instead of one, because if we got one, it might be lonely outside and run away. And if we had two, they could entertain themselves and would be less likely to run away since they would have each other. So we took the two cats, brought them to the house and our plan started right away with having them live outside.

And within a week and a half or two weeks of having the cats, things were going well, we had to go on a trip. I was doing a paragliding trip in California. And this was last year. I want to say it was August or September. And we took the two cats that were pretty new. They had only been at our house for a couple of weeks to the cousin’s house and ask them to take care of the cats. We didn’t want to leave them here because it was too new of a place for them and we knew it was very likely they would go missing. So we took the cats, dropped them off, went on our trip.

And when we came home from our trip, while we were driving home from our trip, we found out that one of the cats had gone missing. This is Taz, the little male cat, the black cat. So he went missing. We came home. We hadn’t fully bonded with these cats yet. So it was like, well, that’s really sad, however, they were always meant to be outdoor cats. The one cat that was left was the very spunky, vibrant cat that does all the hunting. She had already been catching a lot of mice for us. And we got home. The kids were sad. We didn’t know what happened to Taz. And about two days later, we got a phone call. We found out that when he had gone missing and I must say we spent a lot of time searching the streets around here, out in the fields, calling, leaving food and had no sign of him.

Well, turns out one of the neighbors down the road informed us that he had been hit by a car. And she was the one who found him, he was injured pretty badly. And they took him to the vet and they gave us the information for where he was. So we called, found out where he was and sure enough, he had come in with some injuries, they amputated one of his front legs and he was recovering nicely now. And so we informed them that we were the owners. At this point, there had been a lot of work done to him. And he was now a very expensive cat. And we brought him home. We took care of him. He had to stay in doors. And so long story short, we ended up with a three-legged cat and a lot of high bills. And it was a new experience, whereas, because we didn’t really want the cats in the first place, but here we were now dealing with the discomfort of a situation that we didn’t want to be in.

And what happened next was quite the lesson for us. That’s why I called this episode, Dharma Cat. Dharma is the word used for teachings. And this is the cat that was giving us teachings on the nature of reality. So we took him in, he had to be indoors. We bought a very nice air purifier for allergens. We would run that in our room and I would keep the door closed. And he had a cage outside in the living room area where he was healing from his injuries. Well, in the many weeks that we had him, my wife became a cat person. And to me, that’s the most funny part of this entire story is because, again, if you knew her, I mean, imagine someone who really, really dislikes animals and then imagine that person becoming a cat person.

So that’s what happened to my wife. She befriended and fell in love with this little cat. And luckily his personality contributed to the whole thing, because he’s a very sweet, very mild and tender cat. And we took him into our home and he became part of the family and healed with his missing paw. And fortunately, everything else healed completely. His back paw that had been injured and his right side, everything healed. And he ended up being very much a normal cat who just has three legs instead of four. And he gets around just fine. He’s outside, hunting mice with the other cat.

And this experience has now been, I want to say six or seven months that we have cats. And Taz is our little Dharma cat. He’s the cat that taught us that, he taught me that I can love cats and he taught my wife that she can love animals and that she can love cats. And I’ve thought about this in the months since all this has happened and thought, as we go through life and things happen, we find ourselves in circumstances that we don’t want to be in. And it’s very easy in that moment to want to reject the Tetris piece, to say, this is what I’m dealing with, but I don’t want this.

And had someone told me six months ago, hey, here’s, what’s about to happen. The day I found out that we had to amputate his leg and all this, all this stuff was going to happen with him, had someone told me, but you’ll fall in love with this cat, he’ll teach you a lot about life and about resilience and about mending and about adaptation to life circumstances, I would’ve said, “Oh, okay. I didn’t expect that.” And here I am in the present, looking back, we’re really good at looking back and connecting the dots. Looking back, we can see, oh, okay, I’m glad that that happened because I learned this or this happened or that, but we’re not very good at it in the present moment.

So the concept or the idea I wanted to share in this podcast episode was, what if in the present moment, when confronted with difficult or uncomfortable circumstances, we could recognize that looking-forward, we have uncertainty about what this is going to do for us. And that holding space, that open curiosity may change the relationship we have with the circumstances in the present moment. So for me, one of my common practices in mindfulness or meditation is that in the present moment, I like to look back and see the causes and conditions that allowed this moment to be what it is.

And that’s the practice of looking back, seeing the interdependent nature of things, looking back, connecting the dots backwards. And that’s been a very powerful technique to feel gratitude in the present moment for everything in the past, even the unpleasant moment, but this technique is doing the same thing looking forward. It’s saying in this present moment, whatever this thing is that I’m doing or that I’m going through, what’s going to come of this? I think that would be the question that I would sit with, what will come of this? And the answer is, I don’t know. The uncertainty, I think, is what’s powerful here. So what it leaves you with is possibilities, the open possibility of who knows what will come of this. And it may be pleasant things, it may be unpleasant things, right? You may think it’s bad now. Well, wait, it’s going to get worse. Or you may think it’s bad now, but at the end, this will all be worth it. We don’t know, both scenarios are equally uncertain.

And again, looking back, I can recount so many of the difficult moments of my past, things that I’ve gone through that I would never want to go through again are very directly connected to how things are now. I think of this podcast as an example, had I not gone through the difficulties that I went through in my marriage and in my faith transition back in 2010 to 2012, I would have never explored Buddhism, I would’ve never started a podcast. And now, I hear from people by email all the time who will mention how grateful they are for encountering the podcast or a book or any number of things that I’ve done since that incident that have brought improvement to someone else’s life. And it’s fascinating to think none of that would’ve happened, at least not the way that it did happen, had I not gone through what I went through. And that gives me a sense of gratitude for the difficulties that I’ve gone through.

So again, looking back, that’s become a very natural, easy thing for me to do as part of my practice, but what I’m excited to incorporate into all of this is what happens when I do this looking forward and holding space for that uncertainty of what will come of all this. This has happened in my career, right? I had a business that I really enjoyed having, manufacturing photography accessories and tripods. And little did I know that the difficulty of going through the failure of that company, the collapse of that company out of the ashes of that would rise something that I enjoy even more. I wouldn’t have known that at the time, even had someone told me I would have been like, I don’t know about that. And yet, here I am, now running my flight school and teaching paragliding and paramotoring, something that I almost feel it isn’t fair to call it work. And yet, that’s what I do for work. I would much rather be where I am now than where I was then, but I couldn’t have arrived at this had I not gone through that.

And what does that say of the future? Again, there’s the uncertainty, what if there’s something else that I would enjoy even more? And I don’t know that because I am not there yet, or it could, like I said earlier, it could be something that is much less pleasant and that would lead to something that’s more pleasant, that will lead to something that’s less pleasant, that will lead to something that’s more present. And that’s the point, that life goes on, the Tetris game goes on, pieces show up, and we never know what will come of this piece that is falling right now, the one that we’re dealing with right now in the present moment. And that’s the concept I wanted to share in this podcast episode.

I hope that this is an idea that may resonate for you as you analyze and examine the circumstances that you’re in, whatever those circumstances may be, whether they’re pleasant ones or unpleasant ones, hold space for that question of, I wonder what will come of this? And the moment you bring up that question and you open up your mind to the almost infinite possibilities of what may come of this, I hope that will give you a more open space in your mind to accept what will come next, to see that next piece and not dread it so much, even if it’s going to be an unpleasant Tetris piece that shows up, you don’t know what comes next. And that’ll be the situation that we’re always in, never knowing what comes next. All right. That’s all I have for this podcast episode. I hope you enjoyed this. And I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

146 – The Freedom to be You

In this episode, I will talk about the idea of “branding”. The story we have about ourselves is our personal brand and we do a lot to influence the way others perceive us. Practicing non-attachment to our brand may allow us to experience greater freedom to be ourselves.

Transcript:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 146. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today I’m going to talk about the freedom to be you. Keep in mind, you don’t need to use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. You can use what you learned to be a better, whatever you already are. If you’re interested in learning more about Buddhism, check out my book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, available on Amazon, or you can start out by listening to the first five episodes of this podcast. You can find the first five episodes easily by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the link that says, “Start here.” If you’re looking for a community to practice and to interact with, consider becoming a patron by visiting secularbuddhism.com and clicking on the link to join our community.

I want to give a quick update regarding community. The community was previously set up to only be accessible by people who support the podcast, but I understand that not everyone is in a position to be able to support the podcast, so I’ve made a change to the way that the community access is made available to podcast listeners. If you visit the website, secularbuddhism.com and you click on the link at the top that says, “Community,” you’ll notice there is still the ability to support the podcast. The donation for supporting the podcast is $3 a month, which is very minimal. It’s the equivalent of buying a cup of coffee. But if you’re not in a position to be able to do that, and you still want to benefit from access to the community, there is the option to click for a sponsorship, and you’ll be given access to the community on our discord server where you can still interact with podcast listeners and supporters without having the financial burden of having to make any kind of a donation.

I wanted to do that because I didn’t like the thought of having the community locked behind some form of financial aspect. I totally understand that depending on what stage of life or life circumstances, we may not be in a position to be able to provide any kind of support, and yet the benefit of having access to a community is so great that it shouldn’t be restricted to any kind of financial gate. So that’s why I made that change. Having said that, you may have noticed it’s been a while since the last podcast episode. I want to say a month or maybe even more now. While I haven’t been doing podcast episodes quite as frequently, I have been engaging with the community quite frequently. In fact, every Sunday we have a one hour live Zoom call. There’s enough content out there now, in this podcast, in the books that I’ve written, to be able to start discussing all of these concepts and ideas on a regular basis, talking about how they apply to everyday life.

So while I may not have been doing podcast episodes, I have been talking with the community in a very active way every week, as we continue these discussions on how to apply these things into day-to-day life. If you want to watch some of those past episodes, you can find those in the community. So join the community. You can find videos of our past Zoom calls, and engage weekly with myself and with other podcasts listeners on these topics. Again, having said that, I have every intention of continuing the podcast as I have before, but if it seems like I haven’t been doing much with the podcast, it’s because I’ve been doing a lot with the community. I am going to make every effort to stay up to date with regular podcast episodes. But sometimes life happens, podcast gets behind, but the community is where I’m more committed right now and I’m spending time with anyone in the community who wants to take these concepts and ideas and learn how to apply them to everyday life.

Okay. So, that was the announcement I wanted to share. Now, the topic I wanted to discuss in this podcast episode is the topic regarding the freedom to be you. This actually comes from the last four to five weeks in the podcast community. We’ve been talking about this weekly, and it all started with a discussion around the concept of branding. When I graduated from college, my first job, I interned at a company doing marketing, and then one of my first jobs was at an advertising agency. I learned a lot while working at the advertising agency regarding marketing and regarding branding. This specific agency that I worked for was known for coming up with the brand of what happens here, stays here for the City of Las Vegas. That was one of our customers at the advertising agency, was the City of Las Vegas or the… It’s not actually the city, but their ministry of tourism or whatever the acronym is for, the entity responsible for getting people to visit Las Vegas.

The agency had come up with this branding campaign that, “What happens here, stays here,” and I’m sure many of you have heard about this. It’s a very popular brand for Las Vegas. Branding is a very important aspect of marketing, but it’s not necessarily the same thing as marketing. Marketing is what you want your customers to do. For example, an advertisement that convinces them to call your phone number to hire you for air conditioning repair or whatever it is. But branding is something a little bit different. Branding is everything that you do to evoke a certain feeling from your customer, so that when they think about your company, they have a certain feeling. Many large brands focus heavily on being consistent with their branding. Apple has a certain feel, BMW, Audi, Ford. Any major brand has what’s called branding, and all of their marketing revolves around the branding.

It starts with something as simple as their mission statement. So think of branding as what a company wants you to feel about them, and marketing is more what a company wants you to do. Because I spent so much time at an advertising agency and learning the ins and outs of marketing and the ins and outs of branding, I started to think more recently about how we as individuals actually do the same thing. We have the story that we have about ourselves, and then everything that we do when we interact with others, revolves around maintaining the brand that we want them to associate with us. As silly as that sounds, I think it’s very real, right? You may have a story about you, which is, “I am an intellectual person and look at me how I read.” So when I post a picture on social media of, “Hey, check out this book that I’m reading.”

That’s all part of my subconscious branding effort to make sure that you know that I am a person who reads. Therefore I’m a person who’s intellectual, or things like that. The clothing that we wear, the way that we do our hair, the type of vehicles that we drive, the sports and hobbies that we participate in, all of these things are involved with our personal brand. I think it’s important to understand this, not because we’re necessarily trying to eliminate our stories or to eliminate our branding, but our effort is to understand ourselves. When someone does something or says something, why does it affect me this way? Oh, because it’s inconsistent with the branding that I have about myself, that I want them to perceive about me. Now, I’ve encountered this firsthand in my own practice when I was going through my transition of faith.

I had this story about myself, which is that, “I am a good person. I do good things. I’m not the type of person who’s going to intentionally do wrong. In its broadest sense, I’m not a bad guy. I’m not a bad person. I like to be known as someone who’s nice and friendly and who does the right thing.” That was part of my personal brand, or is part of my personal brand. As I was going through my faith transition, members of my faith community were starting to view me as a heretic or rebel. Worst case scenario as somebody who’s doing wrong, and in a best case scenario, as a naive person who’s being misled by the adversary. I really struggled with that because that was inconsistent with my story that I have about myself, which is that I’m a good person who does good things. It came to a head specifically with certain family members where I could perceive that they’re now viewing me as someone who’s led astray or someone who’s doing wrong because I’m no longer following the correct path.

It really bothered me. A lot of my anxiety or consternation came from the fact that I couldn’t convince this person that I’m still the good person. I’m still living up to my brand. So my branding had changed. They had a new view of me, and their brand of me was not my brand of me. A lot of my discontent, dissatisfaction, suffering arose from the discrepancy of the story that I had about myself versus the story that someone else, in this case, a family member had about me. I see this happens with businesses. A business that has a brand and does things that are not consistent with the brand, struggles with their image. They’re going to struggle with their branding. But when it happens to us personally, it’s a more difficult thing. When I saw this in myself and I was able to understand, “Oh, this is what’s happening. This is why it bothers me. It’s not so much that they’re perceiving me from an incorrect perspective, it’s that the feeling that I want others to have of me, I’m not able to achieve that anymore, and I can’t help it.

There’s nothing I can say that’s going to convince this person that I’m still a good person, because from their point of view, in terms of their belief system, I’m not a good person. I’m not doing the right thing because I’ve left the correct path, and I’m now venturing on other paths that are inconsistent with the one true way which they believe there is a one true way.” It was really helpful for me to understand, “Okay, this is a branding issue, and it’s not that there’s anything wrong with how they perceive me. The only thing that’s wrong is that I want them to perceive me another way, and I can’t control perception. I can’t control the story that someone else is going to have about me.” What that left me with was the freedom to just be me, and that involves, or that entails the freedom of allowing others to have a different story about you than the one that you have about yourself.

In that comes a sense of liberation, a sense of freedom. That, for me, was a turning point in my journey of understanding myself, of understanding my stories, understanding my unconscious branding efforts that I put out to the world, and then the wrestling stopped. I no longer felt this tremendous need to influence this one person’s view about me to make sure that that view is consistent with the view that I have about me, because I realized that just can’t be done. It really can’t. Maybe to some degree, with some people it can, but to an overall degree with all people, it can’t. We can’t control the narrative that others have about us. But what I could understand is all the efforts that I’m putting out there to determine what that narrative is, and that was really fascinating to understand that about myself.

So my invitation to you as a podcast listener would be to explore what are the stories that you have about yourself? What is the personal brand that you try to put out to your circle of friends or to the world at large, the story that you have about you? Because somewhere in the maintaining of that story, you may find instances of suffering, instances of dissatisfaction that would constitute the second arrow. If somebody doesn’t like the way that you are, they judge the clothing that you wear, or the career choice that you followed, or the ideological views that you have, the political views that you have or anything along those lines, you may find that it really bothers you, and the actual source of being discontent is the inconsistency that you’re perceiving between the story you have about you and the one you’re trying to put out in the world and the one that they have about you and that they are perceiving.

Just knowing that may give you the ability to engage a little bit more skillfully with that relationship you have with the person, the relationship you have with your story, and more importantly, the relationship you have with a story that someone else has about you. So, that was the general idea that I wanted to introduce. It’s been discussed in the last four to five weeks now in our podcast community on Sundays. We’ve been going into greater detail around the central concept of the stories that we have about ourselves and the notion of our personal branding. Again, the invitation here isn’t to change your story or to change your brand. I think we all have stories, and the moment I decided, “Okay, well, I don’t have a story about myself.” Well, then that is the story. The story of having no story is still a story. Everyone has their story about themselves.

Everyone has the branding efforts that go out into making sure others perceive you a certain way, and there’s not a problem with that. I think that’s a very human thing to do, but what becomes really powerful is knowing, “Oh, this is why I’m doing this. This is why this matters to me.” Then I can catch myself and I won’t get so caught up in my efforts. It’s like, “Okay, I see why I’m doing this.” And that’s okay. “I’m just doing it because I’m trying to control the narrative.” That’s okay too. Trying to control the narrative isn’t the problem. What we start to practice is non-attachment. “Okay, here’s the story that I have about myself. What does non-attachment to that story look like? Well, it’s just a story. I don’t have to fight tooth and nail over the story. I don’t have to get completely bent out of shape when somebody misinterprets me, my story and they have their own story about me.”

In the end, what you’ll end up with is a greater sense of freedom to just be you. The you that has a story, the you that sometimes defends the story, the you that sometimes realizes, “That was not very necessary. I’m going to stop defending my story.” The you that’s putting in efforts to make sure that the story that someone else has about you is the story that you’re happy with. The freedom to engage with the entire process of what it is to be you and what it is to have a story about yourself and what it is to feel offended when that story about you is misinterpreted or is inconsistent from someone else’s perspective. These are all aspects of being a human, a social creature that engages in social connection. So that is my invitation to you in this podcast episode, is to think about that.

I do want to echo the co-on that I shared in the last podcast episode was that, “There is nothing I dislike.” I think one of the keys to thinking about this co-on is how do we define I? Who is the I that can like or dislike something? Take that into consideration with this concept of the you that has a story about yourself. Which you is more you? The one that has the story or the one that is in the storyline? Those are fun things to think about. So that is my invitation to you. Hopefully, this concept makes sense. Again, I try to explore some of these key teachings and key concepts from the perspective of liberation and freedom because that’s what we’re after. It’s not about becoming a better you. I know that I mentioned that becoming a better whatever you already are at the beginning of every episode, but perhaps it’s less about changing who you are and more about befriending who you are. Befriending the you that you already are.

The you that you already are, has a story about yourself. So get to know that story. Get to understand all the activities that take place when you’re trying to influence that narrative for other people. Just greater understanding as the goal. With greater understanding comes a sense of liberation, the freedom to be you. So hopefully, I gave you something to think about over the next few days or weeks. I will work on another podcast episode topic here in the near future. Meanwhile, if you want to continue these discussions on a more regular basis, feel free to join Secular Buddhism podcast community by becoming a patron, or if you can’t, click in for a sponsorship. Both of these things are available on secularbuddhism.com. Click on the link that says, “Community.” That’s all I have for this episode. Thank you for taking the time to listen. Till next time.