Podcast

89 – Killing the Buddha

There is a famous quote in the Zen tradition that says “If you meet the Buddha, kill him”. This quote is attributed to Linji a prominent zen master. What does it mean? How can this teaching help us in our day to day lives as we seek to be less habitually reactive? In this episode, I will discuss this koan and dig deeper to see if we can all apply this teaching to our own lives.

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Transcript:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 88. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about killing the Buddha.

As always, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. There’s a famous quote in the Zen tradition that says, “If you meet the Buddha, kill him.” This quote is attributed to Lin Chi, a prominent Zen master, and the expression is often considered a koan, and if you’ll recall, I’ve talked about Koans in the past. A koan is somewhat of a riddle or a paradoxical question or a statement or story that is meant to confuse the listener out of their state of habitual reactivity.

So, the idea behind the koan is to present a question or a statement that cannot be understood with the intellect and much less answered with the intellect. And you can imagine this one doing exactly that if you are a Buddhist or a practitioner of Buddhism, especially in older times where Buddhism was very intertwined at this point with the culture in Asia or wherever you may be living in this case with Lin Chi, you know, imagine telling a group of monks who venerate and are trying to emulate the Buddha’s example in everything that they do, to suddenly be told this expression, if you meet the Buddha, kill him.

Now, Lin Chi was known for his way of teaching the dharma was, this is typical of his teachings. He would say something that would really make your head turn. And that’s the point of this expression. Now, this specific koan has caught on and in the West and western Buddhism and it’s been interpreted in many different ways by various teachers and practitioners. And one of the interpretations that I want to share is actually from Sam Harris, in a 2006 essay called “Killing the Buddha.”

Sam Harris, who many of you know is an author, a neuroscientist, and he’s the host of the Waking Up podcast, he had this to say about the koan. He said, “The ninth century Buddhist Lin Chi is supposed to have said, ‘If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.’ Like much of zen teaching, this seems too cute by half, but it makes a valuable point. To turn the Buddha into a religious fetish is to miss the essence of what he taught. In considering what Buddhism can offer the world in the 21st century. I propose that we take Lin Chi’s admonishment rather seriously. As of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism.”

So, that is the interpretation by Sam Harris, someone that I admire a lot of the work that he does. And I think there’s a lot of truth to what he’s saying, but I don’t think that’s enough. It’s beyond that. As students of the Buddha, we should dispense with Buddhism is accurate. But I would also say as students of any ideology, we should dispense with that ideology. So it’d be accurate to also say as students of atheism, we should dispense with atheism, or of students of Christ or followers of Christ, we should dispense with Christianity or any expression along those lines, I think gets closer to what Lin Chi trying to accomplish with this koan, with this statement.

Now, another thought that we can explore here with this comes from the book Zen mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. In this book he says, “Zen master will say, ‘Kill the Buddha. Kill the Buddha, if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha because you should resume your own Buddha nature.'” So in this sense, kill the Buddha. The Buddha exists somewhere else. It’s like saying, if you meet the Buddha, kill the Buddha. In other words, if you encounter the concept of Buddha and discovered a separate from yourself, then you are living in a delusion. You’re living in the dichotomy, in the world of dichotomy. And if you’ve studied Buddhism or studied a lot of these concepts, you’ll know that the whole idea of separation is a delusion because of interdependence.

So in this sense, the phrase killing the Buddha, it’s often used to mean rejecting all religious doctrine and I think this certainly goes along the lines of what Lin Chi was probably wanting his students to understand. But I think it goes further. I think it goes beyond a conceptual understanding of the Buddha’s teaching because it’s about having an intimate, intuitive realization of the experiential understanding. So, in that sense of we’re conceptualizing it, then we’re not understanding it experientially.

But this applies to anything. Any conceptual understanding, whether it be kill the Buddha or killing the Buddha, it’s always going to fall short of what the experiential understanding of that concept would be. And I think that’s what Lin Chi was trying to accomplish with this quote, to conceptualize non-duality or to conceptualize Buddha nature or the idea of what a Buddha is, is not the same thing as having an experiential understanding of what a Buddha is.

And as a rule of thumb in the zen tradition especially, if you can grasp it intellectually, then you’re not quite there yet. You haven’t understood it the way that it’s meant to be understood, which is experientially.

So I want to correlate this a little bit more into just our day to day lives. This is a koan that I really enjoy and I like to think of it as ideas, not necessarily kill the Buddha, but think of this concept of kill the idea, kill the idea of the Buddha, and this is why I want to correlate this to ideas. If you think about this, nothing unites us or separates us more than ideas, whether these be societal views, financial ideas, political, especially political or religious ideas. Ideas have the power to unite us and separate us more than anything else.

And ideas are powerful. They can be useful certainly, but they can also be dangerous because at the end of the day, the ideas are not real. They may lead to reality, but they are not the same thing. They are essentially the finger pointing to the moon, but they will never be the moon.

So, when you think about this, the conceptual world versus the real world, you know, one example that I like to think of often is with the idea of flying. I like to paraglide and paramotor and I belong to Facebook forums and groups where people talk about paramotoring. Now as you can imagine, I know you’ll be shocked to hear this, Facebook is a horrible conceptual world where we’re all living in these delusions and fight about everything. And it’s so fascinating to me how a group of flying enthusiasts, all they do is they fight.

They fight about whatever you post. If you posted this, this is wrong. You did this. That’s right. This is wrong. This is the right brand. This is the wrong brand. You’ll die if you fly that kind of wing. It’s almost as if you joined a group that was talking about religion. It’s like if there was a Facebook group that says, “Hey, this is a Facebook group for people who are enthusiasts of life, so come talk about your life doctrine or your life ideology,” and you know, that would be chaos. You’d have people in there pertaining to several different ideologies all debating and fighting each other all the time. And that’s what it feels like sometimes in these paramotoring groups because people get so attached to their specific brand of a wing or brand of a motor or a specific instructor. Or you can fight about almost anything these days on Facebook.

So, I like to imagine that it’s the same way with everything. For me, the idea of killing the Buddha serves as a reminder that the idea is always conceptual and never the real thing. You know, for me, if I meet the Buddha on the road, I would want to ask, “Well, what does that mean? How did I decide that I met a Buddha? What makes this person a Buddha?” Because whatever those ideas and concepts are in my mind that a paint that picture in my head that says, “Oh, there’s a Buddha,” well, those ideas and those concepts, those are intellectual. They’re not experiential.

And I’ve noticed this, again, going back to the paramotor group. In the group, it can be hostile and crazy and chaotic, but you leave the group and go out and actually do the real thing, you go to fly, you meet up with people from the most diverse backgrounds, people far left on the political spectrum far right on the political spectrum. And guess what? When we’re there, nobody talks about it. Everyone’s experiencing flight and everyone cares about the other person taking off safely, flying safely. And when we land, we all talk about what we saw and the experience of flying. And it’s honestly like you’re on a whole different universe than the universe that we were on in the conceptual land of Facebook and talking about flying. So, it’s like the conceptual world of talking about flying versus the real world of actually flying.

And I think about that often, that how this is with everything, anything that’s conceptual gets muddied up fast. But the moment you’re in the experiential world, it seems like we connect easier and now we’re experiencing together and we don’t necessarily argue and fight about it because we’re not caught in our conceptual world anymore.

And I feel that everyone in everything that we meet, we’re encountering this. You’re meeting people just as they are, where they are, doing the things that you’re doing. And I like to pause and ask, is there, when I encounter a concept, I look and I see, is there aversion? Is there aversion to this idea or concept? Is there a craving or clinging to it? I like this idea. To me, that’s the invitation in the expression, kill the Buddha. How am I meeting the things that I meet, the experiences that I am experiencing, the people that I’m meeting, the circumstances that are unfolding in my life. When I meet them in that moment, am I caught in the experiential world of just feeling it and experiencing it? Or am I often finding myself in the conceptual world, where I have ideas about what I’m meeting? This should be this way, this shouldn’t be that way, this could be this way. You know?

And again, I’m not saying that the ideas are bad. I think ideas are great. If I go back to flying, the whole reason that we’re flying is because someone conceptualized the idea of flying and followed that all the way until they were able to accomplish flight. So, I’m not saying that ideas are a bad thing here in the same way that meeting a Buddha isn’t a bad thing. But the invitation to kill the Buddha is a direct invitation to pause and say, “Wait a second, what do you see? And how does that compare to what you think you see?” Because those may not be the same thing.

And to me, that’s the difference between talking about flying and just going and flying. You know, what if I was able to convert this same mental disposition or attitude into the difference of talking about living and just living? I think most of us would recognize there’s a very big difference between the two when I’m talking about living and I’m just out living. Those are not the same thing.

And I think in my opinion, again, this is just my opinion, that’s what Lin Chi was trying to get at with this expression. I can just imagine in a room full of people who were highly devout Buddhists, monks, trying to emulate every aspect of the Buddha’s life, what would that have done to them in that moment to have their teacher say, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

It would force them to say, “Whoa, wait a second. What on earth are you talking about? I thought we wanted to be him. Follow him. Ask him questions,” you know? And that’s exactly what he trying to accomplish is pause for a second. This may not be what you think it is. So, my invitation for you with this podcast episode this week is to think about this koan.

Think about the expression, “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him,” and see what comes up for you in your own life. How can you apply this idea and relate related to the ideas in general? What does it mean to you to kill the Buddha and think about the things that are meaningful and precious to you that you know, what if someone turned around and said, “Yeah, that thing that means so much to you? If you see it, kill it.” What would that do to you? What would that make you think? And then see if you can try to understand or correlate that a little bit with what Lin Chi was trying to accomplish as a zen teacher, as a Buddhist teacher, trying to get you to snap out of that conceptual world for a moment and to snap back into the experiential world.

Again, I like to imagine that in that moment these monks hearing this expression felt something. They felt something, probably a really strong emotion in that moment. And there’s that invitation. What did you just feel when you heard that, you know? Lin Chi was, that’s what he was trying to do. Get them to feel for a moment. This is what you feel. This is real. The idea you had in your mind a second ago? That’s not real. I just imagine that’s what he was trying to do.

So, think about that this week. Speaking of a Buddha. If you meet the Buddha on the road, I’m actually on the road right now. I’m traveling and I’m recording this podcast episode in the middle of my travels. My family all went upstairs to have dinner and I told him, give me about 15 minutes, I’m going to record a podcast episode and then I’ll meet you guys for dinner.

So I’m going to probably have a window of two weeks before my next podcast. I’ve been trying to do these weekly. But since I’m on the road trying to find Internet, it’s a little harder for me to be consistent with the weekly thing, but I get home in a week. Well, a week and a half. So, I may miss the next Sunday window when I normally try to upload these, but you can count on more consistency once I get back. So maybe just plan on the next one being two weeks from now, just for me, to be safe and not promise something I can’t deliver.

But again, thank you guys for listening, as always. It’s a fun process for me to share my thoughts and to know that people all over the world are listening in and hearing these concepts and these ideas. And again, these are the ideas. These are not real. The invitation is to go out and jump back into the experiential world for a moment and really experienced being alive.

In podcasts like these, I think we run the very problem that Lin Chi was trying to get at. You know, we’re talking about life and this isn’t about talking about life. It’s about living life and that happen happens when you turn off the podcast and you’re back out in your day to day living. So that’s where I hope that these concepts are beneficial and helpful to you.

If you want to learn more about Buddhism in general, of course you can check out my books, Secular Buddhism, the first one, my second book, No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners and my newest book, the Five Minute Mindfulness Journal. You can learn about all of those by visiting NoahRasheta.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, and you can always join our online community by visiting SecularBuddhism.com/community. If you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit SecularBuddhism.com and click on the donate button. And that’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you. Until next time.

88 – Radical Okayness

What is the state of radical okayness? There is a very clear message that seems to permeate through many of the Buddha’s teachings, that is, the importance of getting to know yourself, knowing your own mind. I believe that when we learn to look past our own stories and narratives we have about ourselves, others, and life, we begin to experience a state of radical okayness.

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Transcript:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 88. I am your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about the concept of radical okayness, or in other words, the idea of getting to know yourself. Keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.

Now, I first encountered the expression radical okayness when I was attending the Salt Lake Buddhist Fellowship. A weekly gathering in Salt Lake City ran by friend Christopher. He was giving a Dharma talking, he used this concept of radical okayness, and I remember it really stood out to me. I thought I was a really cool expression that really gets at the heart of what Buddhism is trying to accomplish in so many of its teachings. We always talk about the middle way in Buddhism and I like to think that in the middle of, on the spectrum of, “Wow life is great and that’s what I’m chasing after.” Or, “Oh man, life is really crappy right now. I don’t like this.” Right in the middle, there’s just okay. Life is okay. And what a radical shift it is to go from chasing after the extremes, right? Chasing to get to one extreme or fighting hard to avoid letting that other extreme get close to us.

Our habitual mode is to desire more of what we think we want and to feel aversion, or to push away, that which we think we don’t want. But to be okay with things just as they are when they’re good and when they’re bad, that to me is the essence of radical okayness. Radical in the sense that that’s not normal. Most people are caught in the game chasing after one and fighting off the other, but what a radical shift in perspective to be okay and to stop playing that game. Just thinking, when it’s good it’s good to now enjoy it. When it’s bad, it’s fine. It doesn’t mean I have to like it, but I can also enjoy it. That’s a radical thing for me.

So I wanna dig into this a little bit more. There’s a very clear message that seems to permeate through many of the Buddhist teachings. That is the importance of getting to know yourself, knowing your own mind. I wanna correlate this with this concept of radical okayness. So the Buddhist teachings are primarily concerned with understanding suffering and the elimination of what we would call self-inflicted or unnecessary suffering.

I’ve mentioned this before in podcast episodes the parable of the two arrows. Common Buddhist teaching meant to help us to understand the nature of what we could say is natural suffering, the first arrow, versus self-inflicted suffering, the suffering that we bring on ourselves, which is the second arrow. The Buddha understood that the source of this unnecessary suffering was to be discovered within.

So think about this for a moment. What are the things that generally cause us mental anguish or discomfort? For you specifically, the things that cause you mental anguish or discomfort. Perhaps it’s the fear of death, that’s a big one likely rooted in the fear of uncertainty. Not knowing what comes next. The fear of just not knowing or not having control over how life is unfolding. When we feel anguish or stress or worry or anxiety, these are all mental states and they arise in the mind and they reside in the mind while we’re experiencing them.

But this is also how the pleasant mental states work. When we’re in love or we look up at the night sky and we contemplate the vastness of the cosmos and our smallness in this place. Or you smell a flower, or you watch a sunset, or you look into the eyes of your newborn child that you’re meeting for the first time. These are incredibly powerful experiences that all take place in our minds.

So in this sense, pleasure and pain are both experiences of the mind. I don’t know about you, but for me, I cannot think of a greater goal than that of getting to know myself. Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly intrigued by the great mysteries of the universe and the cosmos. I’m fascinated by what we know and by what we don’t know about space and time and the big bang and the expansion of the universe and the origins of life and all that.

But somehow as I sit here and I really think and I feel, I’m also overwhelmed by a sense of awe and wonder at the fact that my mind can produce thoughts and it can produce feelings. Some so intense that I can barely even try to express the experience through words. Then those words, as I speak them aloud and they get recorded and then transmitted to another mind. In this case your mind, the listener who right now is connecting with my mind in a way that really alters everything for all of us, for both of us. How incredible is that?

All these thoughts and ideas that I share come from the thoughts and ideas that others have shared, that others have had. They’ve been shared across space and time for literally thousands of years and it almost leaves me speechless as I think about it. Our mind is the experiencer of each and every moment in our lives. Everything that I think and feel and perceive starts right here in my own mind.

Getting to know your own mind, not only leads to greater happiness in life, but it literally transforms the chaos and confusion of our habitual reactivity and it’s the key to waking up. To experience that awakened state is the very heart of Buddhist practice. It’s really a state of freedom. It’s not dependent on any external circumstances, it’s anchored entirely on the profound realization that we can be fine with the ups and downs of life. The pleasant and unpleasant experiences and mental states, what we could call a state of radical okayness.

Earlier this week I saw a meme on Facebook for a shirt that I thought would be really funny. You guys know if you follow me on social media and I talk about it here, but I am way into paragliding and paramotoring. Paramotoring is essentially just paragliding with a motor strapped on your back. I saw a T-shirt that I thought would be really fun and it was a T-shirt that says, “The world’s okayest paramotor pilot.” I thought, “Man, that’s actually quite a goal to have.” Rather than wanting to be the best paramotor pilot, what does that even mean? That what if I could be the world’s okayest paramotor pilot?

Then I thought about this in context of other labels that I carry. The world’s okayest dad. The world’s okayest mediator, and others like that. I really got a kick out of that. Just laughing, thinking, that’s actually a really profound message when you think about it. That kind of prompted or inspired this podcast episode to talk about this concept of okayness, radical okayness. I think the process of getting to know ourselves starts with the realization that we actually don’t really know ourselves very well. We think we know ourselves, we might be thinking, “Well yeah, of course, I know myself. I know myself better than anyone else.”

But do you know why you react the way you do about things? Do you know why you feel the way that you feel or believe the things that you believe or don’t believe the things that you don’t believe? Why do things bother you? The things that bother you, why do they bother you? Why are there things that you like and dislike? Why do you like it? Why do you dislike it? Just because you know yourself better than … or think you know yourself better than others know you, doesn’t mean you know yourself very well.

I think we need to recognize that our mind is often like a stranger, one that we may see often. We may hear from often when it kicks and screams or has things to say, or it wants its opinions heard. But do you really spend quality time trying to develop a friendship with your own mind? Is your mind your friend? Is it a close friend? Those are questions to explore and I believe that we actually don’t know ourselves really well. A big part of that is because we are living in a conceptual world.

When I try to understand how my mind works, I understand that I have experiences. Those experiences invoke concepts, stories, and those stories and concepts allow emotions to arise. In Plato’s analogy of the Cave, he talks about how what we perceive is not the whole picture. He talks about the situation where people are positioned where they’re facing a wall and they’re stuck that way, facing the wall and they see shadows on the wall. They perceive those shadows to be reality. But the truth is that the shadows are not the real thing.

If you’ve ever done, when you have a light source and you project a shadow on the wall, have you ever put your hand there and done the little animal shapes. I’m only capable of doing one, I can do the dog, which most people can do that one. But imagine looking at that shadow of a dog face on the wall, we don’t really mistake that as a dog. We understand this is the shadow that looks like a dog. But imagine mistaking that shadow for a dog and then living in a new reality where that shadow is the dog. That’s essentially what the Buddha came to realize. That we are living in a conceptual world where the stories have become the real thing and we’re all ignorant to the reality that they’re not the same thing.

Many Buddhist teachings allude to this same concept, this conclusion that the symbol of a thing is not the same as the thing it symbolizes. I think about this often with something like the flag. In our country, we’re really protective of our flag and what it stands for. It’s interesting to me that when we pledge allegiance, we’re pledging allegiance to the flag, not to the thing that it symbolizes. If the flag symbolizes freedom, for example, we’re pledging our allegiance to the thing that symbolizes freedom.

In the Shurangama Sutra, a Zen story, speaks to this. When the Buddha was telling his attendant, Ananda, he says, “You still listen to the Dharma.” Think of the Dharma as the teachings. You still listen to the teachings with the conditioned mind, the conceptual mind. So the teachings become conditioned or conceptualized as well. You don’t obtain the Dharma nature or Buddha nature, you’re not capable of attaining the state of seeing things as they really are.

It’s like when someone points his finger at the moon to show it to someone else. Guiding by the finger, that person should see the moon. If he looks at the finger instead and mistakes it for the moon, he loses not only the moon but the finger also. Why? It is because he mistakes the pointing finger for the bright moon. That’s the problem with the conceptual world, a world where people are more loyal to the symbol of a thing than to the thing itself. People think the finger pointing is more important than what the finger is pointing at. I think we find this in a lot of ideologies and religions. Including, perhaps especially, in Buddhism.

Now, somewhere in the layers of perceiving of having experiences, having concepts or stories that arise out of the experience and then the emotions that arise from the concepts, we get tired. We get exhausted of playing this game of seeking after more of what is pleasant and avoiding at all costs what is unpleasant. The funny thing, well perhaps the sad thing, is that we go through life thinking that we’re tired from our job, or I’m tired of this relationship. Or I’m exhausted because of the heavy experiences I’m dealing with, like the loss of loved one, or something along those lines. But in reality, it’s all just our mind. We get tired because we’re living our lives conceptual not experientially. In doing so, we often end up missing both the finger and the moon.

It’s like we’re locked up in the prison of our own conditioned mind and the Buddha taught that ignorance is what causes us to confuse our conceptual reality with reality itself. This ignorance makes us believe that our stories about ourselves, about others, or about life, that those are real. That the story is the real thing. It’s kind of like being asleep and having a dream and thinking that the dream is real. You’d have no reason to question the reality of the dream if you don’t even know that you’re asleep.

So Buddhism teaches that the key to waking up is first recognizing that we’re not awake. Then we can unlock the door of our conceptual prison through self-knowledge. This is why Buddhism is such a contemplative practice. It’s not about telling others what you should do or what you shouldn’t do, it’s entirely about looking inward and getting to know yourself. When I hear, “What does Buddhism say about this, or teach about that?” It’s often troubling to me because I think, here we are getting caught up into the conceptualized form of Buddhism. Why would you want to know what Buddhism is telling you what you should think about this or that? Now, that’s entirely irrelevant. If anything, Buddhism would say, “Buddhism doesn’t have a position on the Buddhist position.”

As you get to know yourself, it’s like turning on a light in room that’s been dark for so long. I love this analogy, I’ve used it before talking about the idea of being in a dark barn and confusing a coiled hose for a snake. Seeing things as they really are can bring about a sense of radical okayness. There’s almost a relaxation or even a sense of humor that arises. Suddenly, nothing could be better than just okay. I can’t believe I thought this coiled hose was a snake, but the moment I realized oh, it’s not a snake, it was just a coiled hose, there’s that sense of relaxation. You would probably at that point maybe laugh about it. I can’t believe I jumped up on the counter or whatever your reaction was. I think so much of what we’re experiencing in our day to day lives, fits with this analogy.

So to wake up, it’s like turning on that light and seeing oh, how funny that I’ve been chasing after this thing. Thinking that the next job or more money or whatever the thing is you’re chasing, that that was gonna do anything. Some of you may be listening to this and thinking, “Well, wait a second. Is this radical okayness similar to some kind of radical blandness? With this kind of awakening does life become more bland?” My answer, in my experience, the answer is absolutely not. I think life becomes more rich and vibrant when we experience a break from our habitual reactivity and our conceptual labeling of everything as either pleasant or unpleasant. Suddenly we can see more clearly. We can think more clearly. We’re free to just feel and experience life.

I think getting to know yourself is not easy. It requires you to challenge and question one of the things that is closest to you. Something that is deeply meaningful to you, that is the story you have of yourself. But it’s totally liberating to finally be able to see yourself stripped of all the concepts and stories. The Buddha taught that the root cause of suffering is attachment or clinging. In this case, when it comes to the story you have about yourself, perhaps it’s skillful to ask yourself why am I clinging to this story I have about myself? And sure, it’s hard to do but I can promise you that an incredible sense of relief and peace arises when you do. Your very freedom depends on letting go of your attachment to that story.

Now, when I think of the Buddha sitting and meditating under the fig tree, that moment of his enlightenment or his awakening, I like to imagine what he achieved is a sense of radical okayness. That life was radically okay and others who saw this change in him started to call him the Awakened One, the one who’s awake. That’s what the word Buddha means. He went on to live for a long time after that doing a lot of radically okay things. Teaching these ideas and these concepts to others. If you’ve ever experienced these glimpses of moments, of feeling that awaken sense, that feeling like you can see past your own storylines, I’m sure you’ve also felt that sense of peace that comes with knowing that radical okayness is actually a phenomenal state.

I think with this shift we start to develop a sense of confidence in ourselves and in our ability to handle whatever Tetris pieces come our way. I like to think of it like a bird, that comes and lands on a branch with all the confidence in the world. Never having to stop and worry about whether or not it has enough faith in the strength of the branch to hold it, right? That’s entirely irrelevant because the bird has faith in its own ability to fly. Its own faith in its own wings. Whether the branch breaks or not doesn’t matter. If it breaks, it’ll fly away to another branch.

That’s the sort of confidence I think we can develop as we go about walking on the path of life. We no longer put our faith in the path itself, that the path is gonna do what we think it needs to do. That’ll go this way or that it won’t get too steep going uphill, that’ll be a slight downhill. What we do is we start to develop our faith and our ability to navigate the path regardless what the path looks like. Regardless of whatever turns it may take. Whether it’s going uphill and it’s steep or if it’s going downhill.

I think as we approach the end of the year we often look forward to the next year with goals and resolutions of how we want things to go. How we expect the path to twist and turn. Well, I’d like to invite you to add getting to know myself as the top priority on your list. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of getting to know yourself and getting to know your own mind as a key to a more peaceful life, an awakened life like that modeled by the story of the Buddha. So I wanted to share this concept with you and this topic with you as we approach the end of the year. I hope that you’ve enjoyed this. I hope it inspires you to want to get to know yourself.

If you wanna learn more about general Buddhism and mindfulness, you can check out my books, Secular Buddhism. The second book No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners. And my most recent book, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal, which does a lot to help in this task of getting to know yourself. You can learn about those books by visiting, noahrasheta.com. That’s N-O-A-H R-A-S-H-E-T-A .com and as always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes.

If you’d like to join our online community you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community to learn more. If you’d like to make donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button on the top right. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening, until next time.

87 – Mindful Parenting | Interview with Shirin Peykar

This is the audio recording of an interview I did with Shirin Peykar where we discussed the topic of mindful parenting. Shirin works with parents who are trying to be more mindful. Parenting is difficult at times and it’s easy to find ourselves reacting habitually in the midst of the chaos. In this episode, Shirin will share some fantastic ideas and insight about mindful parenting.

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www.talkwithshirin.com | www.rie.org

Transcript:

Noah Rasheta: Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 87. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today, I’m sharing the audio of an interview I did with Shirin Peykar on the topic of mindful parenting.

Noah Rasheta: Before I jump into the audio, a reminder, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice, [00:00:30] do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. I think that’s especially relevant in this topic when it comes to parenting.

Noah Rasheta: I connected with Shirin a couple months ago and we’ve been planning on having a discussion around the topic of mindful parenting. And this is a topic that hits home for me, because I have three kids, ages nine, six and three. And I’m always striving to become more aware of my parenting style and trying to be a more skillful [00:01:00] parent in the role that I play as their dad.

Noah Rasheta: Shirin is a graduate of the University of Southern California. She’s a licensed psychotherapist in California and she’s been practicing psychotherapy since 2019. In her work, Shirin incorporates elements of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy and mindfulness. And Shirin has specialized training in RIE, which is an organization that’s all about helping [00:01:30] parents to raise authentic and self-competent children.

Noah Rasheta: So without further ado, this is the audio recording of the interview I had with Shirin.

Noah Rasheta: All right, I’m excited to have Shirin Peykar on the phone with me. We’re doing this interview using the wonderful technology that is Skype. So Shirin, thank you for taking the time to be on this call with me and I’m looking forward to this interview. How are you?

Shirin Peykar: Hi Noah, it’s great to be here with you, thank you for [00:02:00] having me.

Noah Rasheta: Thank you. So this is a topic I’m looking forward to discussing with you, one, because I’m a parent and two, because I’m striving to be more mindful with my parenting.

Noah Rasheta: So before we jump into it, I’d love to hear a little bit about how you got into this topic of mindful parenting, a little bit about you and your background. Would you mind sharing a little with us?

Shirin Peykar: Sure, so I’m a licensed marriage and family therapist, [00:02:30] as you mentioned, based in Los Angeles and since I began working with clients in 2009, I found that there are a lot of common threads, themes in my work with them. One being that clients struggled with their difficult feelings or unpleasant feelings of anxiety and depression and shame, guilt, loneliness, so those kinds of tough emotions that we tend to call the negative feelings. They had a really hard [00:03:00] time feeling them. And they had a hard time communicating them, expressing them. It seemed almost like they had sort of cut off from themselves, with regards to their feelings.

Shirin Peykar: And ultimately, they had a hard time even accepting that those feelings existed in their lives and they were afraid, in essence, that A, the feelings would swallow them up whole, that it would be too much for them to handle and B, that the suffering would be forever. Once they opened [00:03:30] up this can of worms, it would just be forever. As a result of their avoidance of these feeling, their pain would get louder and louder until they really couldn’t cope anymore and that’s when they would come into therapy.

Shirin Peykar: Then another theme that I found was that they had this attachment to the idea that they needed to be a certain way in their life. And when their ideal world and their reality didn’t align, it caused them suffering.

Shirin Peykar: And then the third area [00:04:00] is that they had this idea that happiness and comfort needed to come from something outside of themselves, some sort of external means, like a purchase or food or a relationship or marriage, career, how much money they were making. And they were so set in their ideals from their ego, that they lost their sense of being. It was all about what they were doing and providing.

Shirin Peykar: [00:04:30] And so fast forward to when I had my son, he was about three months old when I began looking for a mommy-and-me type class. And I found an organization called RIE and they held these parent infant guidance classes, they called it, where the parents would go into the room and the babies would be placed on a mat in the center of the room and the parents would sit around the perimeter of the room. And the class was led by an experienced RIE associate.

Shirin Peykar: Parents would [00:05:00] learn in essence, through these interactions and through observing the children and the babies, their own babies with other babies, they would learn mindful, conscious, respectful parenting that led into toddler head. So we stayed together for about two-and-a-half years, from about three months to two and a half years.

Shirin Peykar: And so this is where my mindful parenting journey began, when my two worlds kind of collided, my personal, my professional [00:05:30] world collided. And it brought me a sense of consciousness within myself and with regards to my parenting.

Shirin Peykar: So I realized that I was so conditioned to resist my uncomfortable feelings, very similar to my clients. And I had adopted my cultural view that children are to be not seen, not heard even and that parenting is more of a hierarchical relationship. So I realized that if my [00:06:00] clients had this type of parenting from a mindful place, they wouldn’t have had those themes sort of keep coming up in their lives.

Noah Rasheta: Wow, that sounds … it’s so interesting to hear that. I’ve heard that same expression in my social circles, that children are to be seen, not heard. It’s interesting how we do that.

Noah Rasheta: [00:06:30] Something you mentioned that stood out to me was not being good at sitting with our uncomfortable emotions or difficult emotions. And that certainly resonates from just a general mindfulness standpoint, but something that I find interesting is for some reason, it seems like we go into parenting expecting parenting to just always be this pleasant experience, without acknowledging that part of parenting is the discomfort. It’s [00:07:00] the poopy diapers and the tantrums and the other things that you experience, that are normal parenting experiences and normal emotions, but we don’t want to feel those.

Noah Rasheta: And so much of our suffering arises out of not wanting to experience what’s normal and natural.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and that attachment to our desires, that things should be a certain way because that’s how they should be, we have all these shoulds attached to [00:07:30] parenting. So exactly, that’s [inaudible 00:07:33].

Noah Rasheta: Yes, so tell me a little bit about like the shift from the view you have, the view of children as the standpoint of to be seen and not heard and that switch to … so how do you view them then, if that’s not the case?

Shirin Peykar: This is the sort of intro to mindful parenting about really reflecting what is your image [00:08:00] of a child. And this is what I ask parents to do initially is to think about what they view children, how they view children. And are we viewing them as individual beings or are we sort of viewing them as extensions of ourselves?

Shirin Peykar: So what you do is a reflection of me and we have these expectations of them to be our projections or these ideas that we, for example, should have been this [00:08:30] great doctor, this amazing, successful doctor. And so we project that onto our children, sort of viewing children that way or again, as individual beings with their own ideas and their own journey and just figuring out who they want to be.

Shirin Peykar: Go ahead.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that and what you said kind of stood out to me are they extensions of ourselves? I remember my son [00:09:00] taking, when he started soccer, that was meaningful for me, because I grew up playing soccer all throughout my schooling years and even after, I played on a league for my adult years for a while.

Noah Rasheta: So when he started playing soccer, it was exciting to see him play and I remember one game specifically, the way he was playing. He’s very timid, he’s not aggressive at all and he’s just not a good soccer player, [00:09:30] but his team won. And I remember being excited and then it occurred to me, am I happy that he won or am I happy that I get to participate in a story of my son is a good soccer player?

Noah Rasheta: It was the extension of me that was taking place there and I think we do that a lot with our kids.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly, but it’s wonderful that you are able to get into this place of mindfulness of checking in with yourself about what this means to me. Is this for my child [00:10:00] or is this for me?

Noah Rasheta: I think a lot of times, at least in sports with kids, you see that where it seems like we’re projecting ourselves on to our kids so much where if they’re not good at something, it’s like that speaks about me as the parent. Then I’m not a good parent. That’s damaging, huh?

Shirin Peykar: Yes, it’s exactly it, because we’re not allowing this space for them to fill who they are and who they want [00:10:30] to be and maybe he doesn’t even want to play soccer, maybe he wants to play football. But because of your excitement and your pride, he may have some difficulty with expressing that he doesn’t want to go to soccer, he wants to do something else.

Noah Rasheta: It’s been an interesting topic in my dynamic, in my family and my marriage, because I do have kind of the unique circumstances of having [00:11:00] multiple views in our household, when it comes to cultural views, political views and even religious views. And it’s kind of forced us to really think about that with our kids, what do you think about this? And we’ll talk about a topic, they’ll ask a question and it’s like mommy thinks and she’ll explain her view and then daddy thinks and I’ll explain my view. And we’ve tried to make a very conscious effort to say, but what really matters is what do you think? And [00:11:30] give them a space and that flexibility to one day know that you get to decide for your own how you view this or what you think about that.

Shirin Peykar: And the way that you’re modeling that you each have different views, it shows him that he can also have his own.

Noah Rasheta: Sure, yeah, so let’s talk a little bit about the feelings that you were talking about. How do [00:12:00] I as a parent relate to my feelings, the feelings of being a parent, the experience of parenting versus the child’s feelings? Tell me a little bit about that.

Shirin Peykar: Again, when we’re not allowing ourselves to access a place of discomfort, we’re modeling to our child that they also shouldn’t, for whatever reason. Or that if we’re dismissing or not allowing them to have their experience, [00:12:30] for example, if they’re crying about a fall and we’re saying you’re okay, the child learns to cut off that feeling, the inner self with regards to their feelings.

Shirin Peykar: And then like the initial beginning intro, where I talked about the clients that sort of cut off their feelings from themselves, they have a difficult time accessing them in the future.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that. I feel like this is getting at the heart of [00:13:00] what it means to be a mindful parent or to be parenting mindfully. And this has the crossover with what we talk about in mindfulness in general. What we’re trying to accomplish as a practice isn’t necessarily to feel good, it’s to be good at feeling.

Noah Rasheta: And I really like that applied specifically to parenting. Would you say that’s kind of the … is that how you would define [00:13:30] mindful parenting?

Shirin Peykar: Yeah, I think mindful parenting begins with that sense of a parent really just asking themselves how are they feeling? It begins with us.

Shirin Peykar: And so if we are beginning to allow our own feelings to be within us and we’re allowing them to exist and we’re labeling them within ourselves, because if you can name it, [00:14:00] you can tame. That’s the saying, if you can name it, you can tame it. And if we’re able to release them in a healthy way, we’re again, modeling all of these for a child. So release in a healthy way, it could be if we’re upset, we’re just going to cry, we’re not going to hold back our sadness for whatever cultural reason we’ve had in our past, where you shouldn’t cry in front of children. It’s going to make them sad, you don’t want to make them sad, being sad is bad, being sad is scary. [00:14:30] If we’re angry, we want to use exercise to release our anger or a journal or breathe through it or use some sense of imagery to release it.

Shirin Peykar: And we want to really just validate within ourselves, instead of judge. I remember a podcast where you talked about that second arrow. We want to eliminate that second arrow of feeling and emotion and then having a judgment about that emotion. [00:15:00] We want to eliminate that and accept our feeling. And if we need to, communicate and share within ourselves and with others, including our children.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. And a word that kind of arises as I think about this is awareness, that you mentioned. I had this experience last week or maybe the week before. It’s a busy time of the season and the reason I want to highlight this [00:15:30] is because I’m sure someone’s listening to this or clicked on this podcast episode with the title mindful parenting, thinking I want to be a mindful parent.

Noah Rasheta: And in their mind, what that means is here’s all this chaos, kids are screaming or whatever and I am just at peace and I’m like sitting there. But it’s not that. Here’s how I, in my experience of trying to be a more mindful parent, this is one example where I have been very grateful for my practice.

Noah Rasheta: [00:16:00] So like I mentioned, it’s a busy time of year, we were all out late doing activities, going to listen to grandma and grandpa’s choir concert and long story short, we get home, it’s really late, kids are going to bed around 11:30 and they’re going to have to wake up for school tomorrow. So I kind of paused and took the whole family for a moment and I said, everyone, listen for a moment. It’s late, [00:16:30] we’re going to bed late, so in the morning we’re all going to be probably a little grumpy. Do you know why we’ll be grumpy?

Noah Rasheta: We all talked about it, yeah, because we’re tired, but it was almost like this awareness of what we’re going to be experiencing tomorrow and sure enough, the next morning, I had forgotten that we talked about it, but remembered when we were having breakfast and the kids were essentially being sloths and could not get themselves ready in time to make the bus. [00:17:00] And I felt this moment of wanting to lose my temper and just be, like you guys, run.

Noah Rasheta: And then I remembered what I said the night before I was like, oh yeah, I knew that this morning would be harder than normal because I’m tired, they’re tired, we’re all grumpy and that awareness alone was enough to not get rid of the feeling. I was still frustrated that they weren’t going to make the bus on time, but at least I knew why and it gave me a little bit of space, in terms of the feeling [00:17:30] that I was having and how I was going to react to that feeling.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and I’m really glad you brought up this awareness of needs and triggers, because this is another step into becoming more of a mindful parent. Because when we’re able to increase our awareness of not only our feelings like you did in this situation, but also our needs and our triggers as parents.

Shirin Peykar: So things like [00:18:00] sleep, like you mentioned, food. There is a term called hangry and it’s true, when we’re hungry, we do get angry and our children even worse. And bringing this awareness into the stressors in our own lives on any given day. There are personal triggers from childhood, maybe we have this need to control because of our anxiety as adults or maybe we’re struggling with boundaries with others or again, we’re feeling like [00:18:30] we’re very ego driven, so we feel like our children are projections. We’re having this constant dance of projections between us and our child or maybe feeling ignored triggers your rejection button.

Shirin Peykar: Maybe sometimes when my son doesn’t respond to me and I’m saying something and he’s looking at me or he’s not looking at me, but he’s not responding. I sometimes have to check in with myself as to why is this triggering me? Why am I getting activated? And is this triggering my rejection [00:19:00] button? Do I feel rejected by my child right now because he’s not responding to my question, if she’s hungry or not?

Shirin Peykar: Also, it is this awareness of the way maybe that we were parented. Maybe we’re seeing ourselves as our parents and we swore that we’d never become that. And it’s also important to not only have this awareness of ourselves, but also an awareness of our child’s needs and triggers too.

Noah Rasheta: And in [00:19:30] my case, it’s been really helpful to try to recognize in my spouse and my wife’s interactions, her triggers too. What I found was something would trigger her and when she’s triggered, that would trigger me, because I’m the peacemaker. And like suddenly we’d be caught in these complex webs of reactivity and we’re all just reacting to different things that had we all understood, oh, you’re tired, oh, [00:20:00] you’re being triggered by this past experience of your childhood, which is triggering me.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly.

Noah Rasheta: And then we go through our whole lives, if we don’t notice that, we go through our whole lives raising our kids, just constantly being reactive and unintentionally teaching them to carry on with that same form of reactivity.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and the relationships, I’m glad you brought up romantic relationships, because those are very triggering [00:20:30] for us, but we can leave those relationships, which people tend to do, especially in this day and age. But when it comes to parenting, we have to work through triggers and we have to figure out why this is activating us and what within us is being activated and why, so that we can raise healthier, happier children.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that. So one thing that I try to emphasize a lot in the topics that I discuss [00:21:00] on the podcast is that when we’re discussing something, we’re trying to bring it back to me. This is about introspection and you finding out what’s there for you and I think that’s important to highlight here.

Noah Rasheta: Mindful parenting isn’t modeling, oh, I want to be like so-and-so, they’re a mindful parent. It’s about getting to the heart of what you just said, like what’s triggering me, why am I feeling this way? And discovering the little things that you didn’t know, like [00:21:30] the concept of hangry was somewhat foreign to me. I don’t know why food isn’t a big deal for me. I could eat sludge, as long as it has a decent flavor, every day, for every meal and it wouldn’t bother me.

Noah Rasheta: But my wife is very particular when it comes to food and if she hasn’t had her meal, she gets hangry and that’s passed along to my kids, well, at least to some of them. But I didn’t realize something about me is I call it hotgry, which [00:22:00] is the temperature. If it’s too hot, like if I’m wearing my coat and we get in the car and then we turn the car on, the heater kicks on, like all of a sudden this rage enters me. And it’s because I’m hot.

Noah Rasheta: And I didn’t know that for a long time and I would be reactive and especially in the car, like we’d get in the car and start driving and that’s when I’m more likely to like yell or something. But now that I know that about myself, we get in the car, especially here in winter, I’ll take my coat off and [00:22:30] I’ll be in a T-shirt in the car because if the heater is on and everyone’s being loud, the hotgriness goes away, because I learned that about myself. And I don’t know how many times I was reactive because I was just really hot.

Shirin Peykar: It’s funny you brought that up, because I actually share both of your triggers, except when it comes to food. I am very much like your wife in the sense that I’m very aware, when I need to go pick up my son [00:23:00] from nursery school at 12:30, I need to have eaten before. I need to sit down and eat a good meal. I need to be full, so that I can be patient.

Shirin Peykar: Because one of his triggers is transitions, but one of his needs is that he needs time to transition from school, to the car, to me, to home. And so he requires a good 10 or 15 minutes to walk and look at a tree that’s outside [00:23:30] and sit on the grass and look at the little child outside of his nursery class. And if I’m hungry, I don’t have the patience to do that.

Shirin Peykar: So like you say, being mindful of our buttons really helps us to create less of those unnecessary moments of chaos.

Noah Rasheta: Yeah, I like that, unnecessary moments of chaos. Because like we mentioned before, the truth about parenting is it can be [00:24:00] an unpleasant, it will be an unpleasant experience at times and it will be chaotic at times, but the unnecessary chaos is what we’re focused on. I like that.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly and that’s also a reason why I encourage parents to take on this practice of figuring out what their goal is, of becoming a mindful parent. Are they trying to get rid of both the unnecessary and necessary chaos? Are [00:24:30] they trying to fix their child to be more compliant and respectful, rather than having this mutual respect that mindful parenting encourages?

Shirin Peykar: What’s the reason? Why do they want to be mindful parents? So we delve into that and we’ll talk about, are they attempting to fix, change or minimize these negative feelings to control their child? Because [00:25:00] these are all ego-driven goals. Or are they trying to create a psychologically healthy adult, that’s inner directed and authentic and secure and self-aware and accepts a full spectrum of their emotions? A child that’s communicative and confident and attentive.

Shirin Peykar: Because a child that is excessively compliant is unhealthy. This represents [00:25:30] the death of the self. Meaning the child has cut off their true self, in order to satisfy others, so they’re really in essence sacrificing themselves, their needs, their feelings, their wants and desires to satisfy everyone else and that’s the recipe for a very codependent relationship in the future.

Noah Rasheta: It seems like that transitions very easily into affecting your romantic relationships too.

Shirin Peykar: [00:26:00] Yes, undoubtedly. The relationship between parent and child creates the parameters of the relationships that we pursue as adults. We kind of recreate those relationships as adults and we try to resolve those unresolved areas of our childhoods, through our romantic relationships in the future. And then we find a whole mess later on, when it could have been something that [00:26:30] we could have worked through with our parents, if our parents were more mindful and aware of us and themselves.

Noah Rasheta: Let’s talk a little bit about like common mistakes, what we can call habitual reactivity. What are some of the tendencies that you see when you’re working with people of little things, that might not … excuse me, little things that might not be so obvious, that we’re all doing?

Shirin Peykar: I think [00:27:00] you touched on it a little bit, when you said that you kind of flip your lid when you get hot and that speaks to reaction without taking a pause. I think this is one of the areas that many parents fall into, where they just yell or they raise their voice or they become annoyed or get into a power struggle, because they haven’t been aware of their own bodily cues of they’re going [00:27:30] to flip.

Shirin Peykar: And so I recommend that parents take a pause, when they start feeling those cues within their body of them getting tense, usually it’s like the hand, the fist kind of being tight, your body becomes tight, your breathing is slow or minimal. And when we’re attentive to those bodily cues, we can then remember to take [00:28:00] a pause and so then we can mindfully respond, rather than habitually react.

Noah Rasheta: I found in my own experience, I like prompting myself with a question, like, whoa, why am I feeling this? Or specifically with kids, with my kids, it’s like, why does that feel like such a big deal to me, the fact that they’re doing this or that and I’m feeling really … like I want to react. Why [00:28:30] is this such a big deal to me?

Noah Rasheta: And that often allows me to sometimes gain insight on what we were talking about earlier, like, oh, this past experience or something along those lines.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, exactly. It really brings your awareness to yourself and to your child and that’s what really this is all about, mindful parenting is just awareness of ourselves and our child and the dance between us. And even if though, [00:29:00] you do get into a situation where you have sort of flipped your lid, Dan Siegel calls it flipping your lid, he says that it’s a human thing that we do and it’s something that our brain, it just does. It’s natural, it’s not your fault.

Shirin Peykar: And so it’s important not to blame ourselves if we have flipped out. And you want to move to more of a place with self-compassion and repair, ultimately, is what we can do at that point. And so like you say, asking yourself the question, [00:29:30] we’re really impaired at this point once it has happened, so you want to maybe ask yourself, how do I handle it when I have acted in a way that’s not aligned with my mindful parenting perspective?

Shirin Peykar: And what we tend to do as parents, unfortunately, is to deny that it happened or we rationalize it and say, oh, I’m really tired. I didn’t sleep last night or we blame our child and we say we got a bad kid or we avoid it altogether.

Shirin Peykar: [00:30:00] But what I encourage parents to do is to communicate what they’ve done in a way where the child can reconnect with them and what that could look like is, I’m sorry I yelled at you, that was probably scary for you. I’m going to let you know next time I’m upset that I need a break.

Noah Rasheta: That’s interesting. I remember now that you’re saying this, for me growing up, [00:30:30] there’s kind of a routine, if we got in trouble or I shouldn’t say if, when we got in trouble for doing something, my twin brother and I were very rambunctious little kids. But I remember any time we got in trouble, it was always followed up at some point usually within I don’t know 30 minutes to an hour, my dad would come back in and tell us we got in trouble. If we got [00:31:00] spanked or whatever it was, whatever the technique was that put us at our place, he would come back and explain it.

Noah Rasheta: And I remember as I’ve grown, like appreciating that and I’ve carried on that same thing with my kids. If they get in trouble or I react a certain way, I always come back and explain it later when I feel like I’m ready to explain myself adequately.

Noah Rasheta: And I mentioned this in the podcast once, one of these instances was [00:31:30] coming home, being upset and like kicking or picking up and throwing the Legos that they had built a little thing and I threw it against the wall. I felt really bad about that because at the moment, I was just reacting, but flipping the lid. My lid had been flipped, which I think is a normal thing, but it allowed me, like I said before, that question, why was that such a big deal, why did I react that way? Because it felt like that wasn’t [00:32:00] normal of me.

Noah Rasheta: And I gained a lot of insight out of that. So I try to continually do that, whether it’s just a little reaction or a big reaction. I try to eventually sit down with the kids and I’ll do this all the time. Do you know why I yelled? And it gives us this chance to talk. And I always, by then I’ve realized something about myself, so I usually present that. Listen guys, I’ve been dealing with this or that or I’m tired or I was [00:32:30] hungry and it gives them, at least it feels to me like it’s giving them this perspective of understanding, oh, I’m going to feel that way too one day and when I flip my lid, I get to also sit and ask, why did that happen, why did I feel that way? It’s been an interesting experience for me.

Shirin Peykar: Yeah, exactly and I think the ability to communicate with each child that’s in a different stage, [00:33:00] we of course have to adjust how much and what we’re communicating with each child in a different stage. Obviously with an older child, you’re able to share more and you go for more complex emotional terms that you could use with them, that really expands their emotional intelligence. So it’s really a great practice to do that.

Shirin Peykar: I think another area that I offer for parents to be [00:33:30] mindful of is the phones and media distractions. This is a big one, because we become so unconscious of the fact that our presence with our child usually entails us grabbing our phone, checking emails or getting a text and responding. But we really want parents to think about the effect of not having this distraction. By being present without these we’re modeling a level of connection [00:34:00] with others and with our child and we’re sending this message to our child that they’re worthy our time, because how else are they going to learn worthiness?

Shirin Peykar: I recommend that parents be present and it doesn’t require us talking really, it could even just be us getting in their world, sitting next to them when they’re playing a video game, just observing. Not hovering, but more observing and just having this quiet presence. I think a lot of parents struggle with that quiet presence [00:34:30] and the piece of advice for that is to really tap into your senses when you’re trying to connect with your child without these distractions. Because we’ve become so used to these distractions.

Noah Rasheta: That’s a big one for me. I feel like I’ve been battling with this a lot. The phone is always there and my habitual reactivity is going down to the phone and checking, is there an email, do I need to respond to someone on social media or things [00:35:00] of that nature.

Noah Rasheta: And I’m often reminded when I’m trying to talk to the kids about something and they are on their screens and they literally cannot … it’s like I’m invisible. I have to put my hands in front of the screen and then they realize, oh yeah, you’re there, what were you saying?

Noah Rasheta: But that’s what I do and it’s been really a source of … what would the word be? I guess feeling bad about my parenting, is my phone addiction. [00:35:30] What have you found as some tips or things to work around that?

Noah Rasheta: One thing I’ve done is I’ve tried to at least block out times, like okay, dinner time is an obvious one, but other times I go and I physically put my phone away like in the room or something and go back out and just sit and try to interact with the family. Because I’m trying to model that, because they’re growing up with an even harder one where for them it’s the same, they’re so entertained [00:36:00] by their technology. And I just feel like we’re modeling all the wrong behavior there.

Noah Rasheta: What would you say about tips and techniques there?

Shirin Peykar: I think those were really great ideas that you had, putting the phone in another room, putting it on silent and again, modeling that this is the time that we’re having dinner, this is the time that we’re having play. Sensitive observation [00:36:30] we call it, where we’re just kind of observing our children and watching them play.

Shirin Peykar: And if we do have to take a call, because it does happen where our children don’t want us to constantly be with them the older they get, they want to exercise their independence. But if we are in the middle of those times when we do get a disruption and it will happen, again, it’s communication, it’s communicating that I’m sorry I have to take a call. [00:37:00] I’ll be right back. Or I’m sorry, that was disturbing, I apologize for that. Or the phone’s ringing. I’m not going to take that call because it’s important for me to be here with you right now. They really acknowledge that and they internalize that they’re worthy of their parents’ time.

Shirin Peykar: So I think these ideas that you had were a great one. I think a lot of parents do struggle with it, but putting it on silent really helps. It’s just having that out of sight, out of mind thing for [00:37:30] our own well-being is very important, let alone for our child.

Shirin Peykar: So another tip I have that I think is more subtle is our use of language and use of the words, in particular of no, because that’s something that’s become so overused and it’s become something that the meaning … it has lost its meaning for our children. And so what I recommend for parents is rather than no and don’t do this and don’t do that, [00:38:00] to shift their language to something that the child can do.

Shirin Peykar: So for example, my son loves to jump on the couch. Instead of telling him don’t jump on the couch, I say if you want to jump, you’re welcome to go jump on the trampoline or you’re welcome to go jump on the mattress in your playroom, but I don’t want you to jump on the couch.

Shirin Peykar: So it’s more of this directive, it’s directed to what they can do rather than don’t do this, no, no. I recommend [00:38:30] parents using no for just safety concerns and the rest is more directives to things they can do and offering them the choice. So that they’re not zoning out with the no.

Shirin Peykar: Or the terms good and bad, I feel like places some judgment on things and people. Maybe shifting those words to unhealthy or healthy, rather than that’s bad for you, that candy is bad for you, that’s [00:39:00] not really healthy. You see the difference?

Noah Rasheta: It’s interesting, that’s one that I’ve worked on a lot in our home, because I’m always talking about that as a concept, that good and bad, that’s a very prevalent conversation in Buddhism and mindfulness. But I’ve noticed even when my kids are asking me questions like, hey, why is this word a bad word? And I’ll say [00:39:30] it’s not a bad word, there’s no such thing as bad words, there’s just words that some people get really uncomfortable if they hear it.

Noah Rasheta: So we don’t say it because it’s bad, we just don’t say it because we don’t want to make people uncomfortable. And trying to reframe things just to get out of that mindset of good and bad.

Noah Rasheta: I’ve had a lot of discussions with my wife around that same concept of there’s no such thing as like a good parent versus [00:40:00] a bad parent, other than like how do you define that, what makes you a good parent? We’re all just parenting and we’ve tried to reframe in our personal conversations, we’ve tried to reframe the good and bad to more how can I be a more skillful parent, how can I be a more skillful partner?

Noah Rasheta: But I think we’re trying to model that with our kids too, because I’ve noticed for them it’s easy to get caught up in that thinking of it might be in a good son or a good daughter, versus, [00:40:30] there is no good or bad.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly. We’re not good or bad people, people have behaviors that may not be the greatest or we could even label the behaviors as maybe good or bad, but people, we just are who we are. It’s that accepting as is notion.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. So [00:41:00] language is a big one and again, this goes back to being introspective and asking yourself, how am I communicating and why am I communicating this way? Any other common ones?

Shirin Peykar: Yes, another one that is a big one that we see is when parents tend to dismiss a child’s physical boundaries, unconsciously [00:41:30] because they want to respect others. Go give grandma, grandpa a kiss or just picking up children without letting them know.

Shirin Peykar: I think that it’s really important to begin to bring this physical awareness through mindful parenting for our children, so that they’re aware of boundaries. And we begin giving children the opportunity to check in with themselves about what they want, what they’re comfortable with, what feels good, what doesn’t [00:42:00] and allowing them to make decisions about their body.

Shirin Peykar: So maybe asking, do you want to give grandma, grandpa love before they leave? Or can I pick you up, to younger children. I have this bedtime routine with my son where I ask him, we call it the bedtime kisses and I ask him where do you want me to kiss you before bed? And so he’ll point to his hair and his eyes and his ears and it’s almost like a fun game for him, where [00:42:30] he tells me where he’s comfortable being kissed. And I just say good night and I respect that and some nights he doesn’t want any and that’s okay too.

Shirin Peykar: So again, it’s not about me, it’s checking in with yourself as to who is this for? Is this for my child or is this for me? Who is this benefiting?

Noah Rasheta: It’s interesting with my kids, the differences in their personalities. My primary love language is [00:43:00] physical touch and affection and my son is very much that way too. So like in the mornings when the kids are … so my son and daughter, my kids are nine, six and three. The nine year old and the six year old go ride the bus together, but every morning it’s the same thing. My son is like bye mommy, bye daddy and he has to give us each a kiss and he has to give us a hug and then he’ll start to leave and turn around and always needs a second hug or a second [00:43:30] kiss.

Noah Rasheta: And our little daughter, the six year old, she’s always just like see you, bye and doesn’t … no hugs, no kisses and it was interesting to notice in me like that sense of, whoa, something’s wrong because why would you not give someone a hug and a kiss before you leave? Because that’s me, but it’s made me very aware that, oh, she kind of gets to decide how that is and how long I’ve projected my communication [00:44:00] style on like my wife or on my kids.

Noah Rasheta: And it’s been eye-opening for me to think, okay, I want to be more mindful about this and pay attention. What are her communication styles, how does she feel loved? I just thought about that as you were explaining.

Shirin Peykar: It’s really important for us to be able to respect theirs and allow the space for them to exercise what they want, when it comes to their bodies. I think [00:44:30] as young children, we do tend to tell them to go kiss this person and give that one a hug and we don’t think, like what if they don’t want to, what if they’re really uncomfortable for whatever reason? It’s not what they want to do. We’re sending the message that your inner voice is secondary to what your parent has to kind of direct you to do.

Noah Rasheta: Yeah, interesting.

Shirin Peykar: And I don’t think it’s intentional. I don’t want to [00:45:00] judge parents because I’m sure they’re all doing the best they can with what they know, but we also do want to bring some awareness to a child’s experience within the way that we’re parenting.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. So let’s talk a little bit about like the mindful parenting from the perspective of what’s happening inside. Because we talk about mindful parenting in terms [00:45:30] of how I interact with my kids, what do I say to my kids? But what about mindful parenting in the context of how I talk to myself? The inner voice, what’s happening inside of me, let’s talk about that a little bit.

Shirin Peykar: So when it comes to our own feelings, that’s where we can begin, ultimately, that’s where we’re going to begin. And bringing this awareness to ourselves, I have a [00:46:00] little thing that I have created called the mind and body scan. And it’s very aligned with the Buddhist tenet of the right mindfulness, of being aware of your thoughts and your emotions and your body as it exists in the present moment. And ultimately, your feelings and your thoughts do create your reality, which is the whole mindfulness approach. I’m sure you’re able to speak to that better than I am.

Shirin Peykar: But I’ve created this practice, [00:46:30] in checking in with yourself, just by scanning your body, throughout the day, for your sensations and your feelings. And the purpose of this is to create a habit of staying in the moment.

Shirin Peykar: So just throughout the day, taking a moment within yourself to check in, how am I feeling right now? Because we’re really easily able to distract ourselves, though again, the phone, through chores that we have to do, through our relationships, through [00:47:00] work. It’s really easy to forget and to put ourselves aside.

Shirin Peykar: And so when we create this practice of checking in with ourselves, it benefits us as parents and as individuals, because we’re modeling that we’re feeling or validating or communicating or even with ourselves, about our feelings our needs. And it’s a great practice to do just within yourself, the positive or the negative. Right now, I’m [00:47:30] not in a good mood, what caused that? Just having this relationship with yourself throughout the day that you’re checking in with yourself, just to see how you’re doing. The same way that we would do with a partner.

Noah Rasheta: It’s interesting how you mentioned this modeling, if we don’t model or if we don’t practice this ourselves, we’re essentially modeling the way of being [00:48:00] habitually reactive to our kids. And one way that I know that I do that and I think you mentioned this in some of your work, is distracting our kids. It’s always been a strategy or a technique that I use when the kid falls and you’re like, oh, you’re okay, oh, look, over there, did you see that? We’re trying to distract our kids from what they’re feeling or what they’re going through.

Noah Rasheta: And I think in my [00:48:30] case, that stems from … maybe that’s how I’ve always been like, oh, I’m feeling this, better distract myself, go look at that. How do we foster that sense in our kids, how do we help them to honor what they’re experiencing?

Shirin Peykar: The way to go about that is to really just meet them where they are at in that moment. So if again, we’ll use the [00:49:00] fall example of you’ve witnessed your child falling and they’re crying, I mean there’s no real injury and you may feel like, okay, it’s not a big deal. But we want to meet them where they’re at and if they’re crying, we just want to sit with them while they’re crying and just look at them and even explain to them maybe what we saw happen. You were walking and you didn’t see that last step and then I noticed that you just kind [00:49:30] of fell over and you hit your head slightly on the ground. And that probably scared you.

Shirin Peykar: We want to add words, we want to be able to put words to the experience, emotional feelings, that must have scared you, that shocked you, you weren’t expecting that, you feel scared, you feel afraid, whatever words that we feel like would accurately explain [00:50:00] what our child is feeling. So that they’re able to put words to it, they’re able to make sense of it and we’re not discounting their experience, because we feel like, okay, there’s no blood, you’re fine.

Noah Rasheta: That seems to be a common one, it’s like, you’re okay, get up. Quit crying.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, I see that, you’re okay, nothing happened, nothing happened. Why are you crying, don’t cry? Oh my gosh, let’s go get ice cream, the ice cream truck … and I think a lot of that’s cultural too [00:50:30] for many people. We’ve learned to become afraid of our emotions. I don’t know why, because we don’t do that with the positive emotions of happiness and joy. We want that, but we don’t want the other part of our human experience.

Shirin Peykar: And if we’re not willing to have that within ourselves, we definitely can’t see that within our children.

Noah Rasheta: I wonder if a part of that is the impatience, we’re always [00:51:00] rushing from here to there, this to that. So like someone falls and oh, you’re fine, get up, don’t cry about it. We don’t have time, at least we feel like we don’t have time to sit and evaluate.

Noah Rasheta: But it’s funny that you mentioned like on the flip side, if it were a positive experience, then we do want to be like, oh, I’m going to linger with this one. We don’t do that there, it’s like, hey, I’m feeling great, no, you’re not, you’re more okay. Let’s move on.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly. I think [00:51:30] it stems from A, this fear that these negative emotions are going to swallow us up whole. So we need to avoid it or even just the fact of us being parented from a perspective of distraction and not being in touch with that emotion and thinking that there’s some reason why we shouldn’t visit those feelings. There’s something in there that’s scarier, that it’s going to last forever or that we have this idea that it shouldn’t be this [00:52:00] way. We shouldn’t feel sad or we shouldn’t cry or we shouldn’t feel guilty or anxious or lonely.

Shirin Peykar: But why not? Really asking ourselves, why not, what’s wrong with that?

Noah Rasheta: I like that you mentioned kind of highlighting some of the other underlying emotions that may be causing that discomfort, like instead of just saying, oh, you’re okay, saying, oh, did that scare you? I think that’s really [00:52:30] powerful, in terms of helping our kids to grow up with the tools, I guess, to explore deeper.

Noah Rasheta: Because I find that as adults, we do that all the time too. I mentioned in one of the podcast episodes, we were in Iceland and my wife had this experience of being yelled at by another tourist, because she was taking too much time on one of the things where we were taking a picture. And there was this intense moment of strong emotion that welled up for her, that through introspection, [00:53:00] she was able to realize why did that bother me? And realizing there’s a deeper thing, that sense of embarrassment, in this case, embarrassment is what led to the anger.

Noah Rasheta: But I think with pain, it’s similar, it’s like, well, a kid falls, they’re crying not because it hurt or because they were embarrassed, but helping them to discover what happened, did that scare you? I think is a good prompt for something like that, to realize, oh, that’s why I’m feeling this way.

Shirin Peykar: [00:53:30] As you said, in every experience, there are multi layers and it may not just be maybe what we think or it may be that there is something deeper or something different that maybe we didn’t even catch, that if we allow for that experience to unfold, that they will be able to tell us. I was surprised. I didn’t expect that to be there, it’s not that I’m in pain, it’s more that I was shocked or [00:54:00] I wasn’t expecting that to happen. Caught me off guard.

Noah Rasheta: I really like that.

Noah Rasheta: So I feel like it’s a good time to mention again, this to the listeners, if you’re listening to this thinking mindful parenting means there’s this way to parent compared to that way of parenting. I don’t know that we would want to necessarily present it that way. It’s a more introspective way [00:54:30] of parenting, where I’m learning about why I parent the way that I parent. Why I react the way that I react, when this or that happens.

Noah Rasheta: Rather than saying … I think a common mistake would be to think, okay, well, I’m just going to pretend now. This thing happens and I’ll pretend like that’s not bothering me because that’s the mindful way. And that’s actually the opposite, you’re not sitting with the emotion that you’re experiencing, you’re pretending that you’re not experiencing that unpleasant [00:55:00] feeling is counterproductive, that’s not going to make you mindful at all. Pretending to be peaceful in your parenting isn’t helpful at all.

Noah Rasheta: If we were to kind of wrap this up, what does mindful parenting look like, what are some common things that somebody listening now could start doing this or that? What would that be?

Shirin Peykar: So mindful parenting is really a [00:55:30] combination of being authentic with our feelings and our experience, relating to them, relating to our child’s feelings and experience, allowing them to exist within the child too, bringing awareness to our needs and our triggers and our self-care and our child’s needs and triggers. And bringing this awareness to our communication, as to how we’re communicating what’s going on with us, with [00:56:00] regards to our feelings and our experience.

Shirin Peykar: And lastly, I wanted to add a bonus sort of exercise for parents to try out and see how that feels for them, even if they had a day of not so mindful parenting. How does that sound, Noah?

Noah Rasheta: Great, yeah, let’s hear it.

Shirin Peykar: So I call this the manifesting positive outcomes, where at the end of each day it’s taking five minutes [00:56:30] before you go to bed, to replay the day’s interactions with your child in your mind. So what I do is I stood at the edge of my bed and I envisioned one incident that I would have liked to have gone better with my son. And I’ll ask myself where in that event I could have been more, where I could have been better. How could I have interacted in a way more aligned with mindful parenting?

Shirin Peykar: And then I begin to envision that same event going exactly as I would have liked [00:57:00] it to go, in my mind and I feel in my body, what it feels like to be on this endeavor of mindful parenting.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. Is this like a practice that you’re just kind of running in your head or do you have people write it down like a … I don’t know, like a parenting journal or something?

Shirin Peykar: It depends on what you works for you. Some parents don’t [00:57:30] like the journaling, but if you journal, I think it’s even better because it allows you this opportunity to go back and kind of look through past incidents. And you’ll remember things that you may not have remembered in that present moment. And it could be a very enlightening journal to go through, when you have the time.

Noah Rasheta: I like that. One thing I do regularly in the podcast episodes is I try to have an invitation [00:58:00] for a challenge of some sort at the end. And I think this is a good one for this podcast episode, maybe for the next week or so, to give that a try and in your day, with that asking yourself, how did today unfold in my parenting, what could I have done differently, how would that have made things turn out? And just thinking about it I think goes a long way.

Noah Rasheta: Because what we seem to be up against is remembering to remember. [00:58:30] And like in our busy lives, we’re just reacting and we’re surviving the experience of parenting and not really pausing and analyzing, what does this feel like?

Noah Rasheta: And that’s unfortunate because I try to remind myself that no matter how unpleasant the experience of parenting is today, at some point, I will look back and I’ll miss that that experience is gone. And I don’t want [00:59:00] to have regrets in my parenting and to me, I mean I don’t want to have regrets in my living, but tome, that translates into, am I really feeling it right now, allowing myself to be fully immersed in the experience of parenting?

Noah Rasheta: But that puts the good and the bad, so to speak, on an equal playing field. It’s like did I really soak in the unpleasantness of my three-year-old still not being potty-trained? Here I am changing [00:59:30] her pull-up in the mall. Did I really allow myself to be good at feeling what that was like, rather than just pushing that away?

Shirin Peykar: Yes, exactly. This full spectrum of emotions and experiences, exactly, that’s exactly it.

Noah Rasheta: I feel like parenting is an incredible experience. Anyone who’s a parent kind of knows this and I feel like, man, it’s been such a neat [01:00:00] experience to raise another human being and realize they’re not little robots, I’m not cloning myself. They’ve got their own personalities and their own way that makes them unique. And it’s neat to have that interaction with them, even at such a young age and to me, that’s what mindful parenting is about. It’s me trying to understand the interdependent nature of our relationship and trying to understand [01:00:30] myself, how I interject, like the natural tendency to put myself in them, the egocentric side of it that you talked about.

Noah Rasheta: And I guess not eliminate that, but totally just recognize, oh, that’s a natural tendency. Wow, why do we do that? And allowing myself to see that and then back away at times and think, oh, okay, I know why this felt this way or that way. And just again, experiencing that full range of emotions in [01:01:00] what it is to parent.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, exactly.

Noah Rasheta: Sorry, I was just going to say if people want to learn more about this, do you have any resources that you would suggest, books or your website or anything along those lines?

Shirin Peykar: Yes. I encourage them to check out my website. I have a little bit of information on my website about how I work. [01:01:30] They’re welcome to reach out to me. I offer free 15 minute consultations for prospective clients and I’m able to just kind of get to know them and what they’re looking for. I’m able to see clients in California, face to face or through Skype or teletherapy throughout the United States. And that would be more as like a mindful parenting coaching.

Shirin Peykar: And if they’d like to get more information about RIE, they’re welcome to go to www-

Noah Rasheta: [01:02:00] Wait. Before we jump into that, what is your website?

Shirin Peykar: My website is www.talkwithshirin.com.

Noah Rasheta: And that’s S-H-I-R-I-N.

Shirin Peykar: That’s correct.

Noah Rasheta: Cool and I’ll put these links in the description of the podcast episode as well. So the other one you were mentioning?

Shirin Peykar: RIE’s website is www.rie.org and that’s [01:02:30] R-I-E.org. RIE may have RIE associates throughout the United States, they are actually worldwide, so you’re welcome to see if there are any parent child guidance classes near you. Or they also have other sort of resources on their website.

Shirin Peykar: And on my website, I have books that I recommend for parents that are interested in mindful conscious parenting.

Noah Rasheta: [01:03:00] Cool, do any of those stand out right now as like here’s a book to check out or should we just go look at the list?

Shirin Peykar: There are a bunch. I recommend that parents go check out what works for them, what they’re looking for. If it’s for discipline, I have a couple for discipline. If they’re looking for more … something for their babies, from zero to two, got that covered. And then for older [01:03:30] children as well.

Shirin Peykar: And then there are books for the parents too, so we’ve got it all covered on my website.

Noah Rasheta: Awesome, great. I feel like I want to echo what I mentioned at the beginning of every podcast episode, in terms of when we’re talking about Buddhism, I always mention the quote of the Dalai Lama is to not use Buddhism to become a Buddhist, but to become a better whatever you already are.

Noah Rasheta: And I almost want to say that it’s perfectly with this, like use the concepts [01:04:00] and tools of mindful parenting not to become a mindful parent, but to become a better parent, a better whatever you already are, whatever type of parent you are now, just be a little better.

Shirin Peykar: Exactly.

Noah Rasheta: Cool. I really appreciate you taking the time and discussing this topic. It’s certainly a topic that’s interesting to me because I have kids and I know podcast listeners have mentioned it before, because I’ve only done one or two podcasts where [01:04:30] I talk about teaching mindfulness to kids or things along those lines.

Noah Rasheta: So this has been a really fun conversation. I think there are a lot of good nuggets in there, that parents are going to appreciate. And we’ll go check out your books. I think that would be the next logical step, talking to you or reading some of these books and learning more about these concepts. I know I’m excited to dig through that list and see which book I want to pick up next.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, definitely and feel free [01:05:00] to reach out if anyone has any questions. I’m very accessible. This mindful parenting is such a favorite specialty of mine and I enjoy it very much. I’m grateful.

Noah Rasheta: Very cool.

Shirin Peykar: Yes, thank you.

Noah Rasheta: Thanks again for your time, it was a pleasure speaking with you and I’m sure we’ll reach out if anyone has any questions. Visit the links in the podcast description to find Shirin and her work and thank you guys for listening.

Shirin Peykar: [01:05:30] Thank you, Noah.

Noah Rasheta: Thank you for listening to the audio of this podcast interview. If you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness, you can check out my books, Secular Buddhism, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners and my third book, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal. You can learn about those if you visit noahrasheta.com, that’s N-O-A-H-R-A-S-H-E-T-A.com.

Noah Rasheta: If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, [01:06:00] give it a rating on iTunes or if you want to join our online community, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community. If you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with this podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button.

Noah Rasheta: That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

86 – Listening to Understand

We seem to really struggle when it comes to having conversations about difficult topics. Are we listening with the intent to understand the other person or are we simply assessing to determine what team the other person is on? Are they team “us” or team “them”. In this episode, I will discuss the idea of listening to understand.

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Transcript:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 86. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today I’m talking about listening to understand. Before I jump into that, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.

I had a recent experience where I was asked about my view or stance on a controversial topic, and in that moment I felt a sense of hesitation on my part in deciding how to answer. And, this experience got me thinking about the nature of the question. Was this being asked in order to truly gain a better understanding of my views or was it just a test of some sort to see what team I’m on. Now, imagine for a moment any of the hot topics of the day, it could be political questions like, what are your views on immigration? What is your stance on gun control? Moral or ethical questions like, what do you think of abortion? Are you a vegetarian? Why do you eat meat? Or existential questions like, do you believe in God? What do you think happens when we die? And of course we can’t leave out the hot topic of the season, you know, what are your thoughts about the Christmas classic, “Baby, It’s Cold Outside?”

Now, as I thought about the specific question that I was being asked, it occurred to me like I said that perhaps I was being subjected to a test. Was this question just a simple assessment of whether, or not I’m on team us, or team them, and this got me thinking, how often are we making these assessments against others? For me, how often am I really listening to understand? And, I mentioned before in a previous podcast episode, episode 73 titled, “What Moves Us,” the five core social motives. With the first one, number one being, belonging. That is to say that, one of the core social motives is to make an assessment of belonging. I’m trying to determine whether I belong. I need to decide what team you’re on, and can you see how this plays out if we’re all doing this assessment all the time? Do you do this in your own life?

I do this all the time and I think we all do, and some topics are more sensitive than others. I know for me it centers a bit more around like religious affiliation, or are more clearly I’m trying to determine the level of religious dogmatism or fundamentalism that one possesses, and that’ll hit a sensitive nerve for me. So, I think it stems from the fact that I tend to feel like, that is a particular team that I no longer belong to. A team that often gives off this vibe of, “Hey, you’re a trader, you were one of us and now you’re not.” Or, “You’re a weak person, because you’ve lost your faith.” Or, I don’t know, anything along those lines. So, it seems easy for me that when it comes to religious topics or questions of a religious nature, I catch that I’m generally listening to assess for belonging rather than listening to try to understand, and that’s just something that I’ve noticed about myself.

Again, what we’re trying to do with all of this as a practice is internalize it. You take all this information that you’re hearing on the podcast and this is about you saying, “Okay, well how does this apply to me? In what areas of my life am I struggling to listen to understand?” Now, I want to emphasize that we’re hardwired to do this for survival reasons. Back in the old days, the evolutionary days, if we weren’t good at this simple assessment, it could have meant the difference between life and death. In other words, I’m not saying that this is a bad thing that we do, I’m just saying it’s not the most skillful way to communicate around these difficult topics when we’re all playing the game of just trying to see, what side were each on, and then we ostracize, or invalidate the other view, or the other opinions so quickly.

Now, it’s unfortunate, but I think in our culture we’ve been taught to avoid talking about controversial topics, because it makes both sides too upset, it makes people uncomfortable to talk about it. We end up getting carried away by the aversion that we have to the discomfort of these emotions that arise when we’re talking about these things. When instead, we should be focusing on learning how to have skillful conversations about difficult topics. Now, I get it that you can’t change other people. This isn’t about convincing someone else to be better at talking about difficult topics that are controversial for them. This is about you deciding and learning, can I personally become better at having skillful conversations around difficult topics? How do we do that?

Well, first we need to learn to listen to understand, and when we’re seeking to understand, it’s important to know that we’re not trying to debate the validity of another person’s view, or their opinion, or their belief, we’re just trying to gain a bigger picture. And, Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Understanding is loves other name,” and I really like that quote. I’ve mentioned it before in another context where he talks about how the more we understand, the more we love and the more we love, the more we understand. I think that’s something important to keep in mind. One of the most powerful things that we can do individually to become better at having skillful conversations around difficult topics, is first to recognize that we’re not experts at everything. I don’t understand why we all feel the need to be experts at everything. All of I do, everyone does, and in reality there are very few things that we are experts in.

Perhaps, it could be your career or something that you spent a considerable amount of time learning. That’s your area of expertise, but then there are so many other areas that are not your area of expertise. And for me, I know when someone asked me to talk about my views on, I don’t know, say immigration as an example, it’s like, well, why would you want to know what my opinion is? I mean, sure, I have one and I may feel strongly about my opinion, but that by no means makes me an expert on the topic. My view or my opinion may be wrong no matter how right it feels to me. And, wouldn’t it be nice if we all carried that attitude, that a bit of wiggle room that, my view may not be the right view.

In my personal practice with Buddhism, I’m constantly trying to understand myself, why do I do what I do? Why do I believe what I believe? Why do I not believe what I don’t believe? And, to view things the way that I view them. I understand that, I am the product of the societal views that I grew up with. With all my past experiences and the opinions that arise out of all of this, but that doesn’t mean that they’re right. It doesn’t mean that they’re better than other views or other opinions, and I try to keep that in mind. To acknowledge that there may be better views, or better opinions out there. In fact, that’s why I am where I am with my views, because at one point I measured or analyzed the views that I had with other views and thought, “Oh, these other views seem to make more sense to me.” So, I shifted and evolved in, and that’s led me to this current moment in space and time, where the collective views and opinions that I have are the ones that I have.

But to become stagnant and think, “Oh, well, now I got them all. This is …” No, it continues to evolve and I’m continually assessing my views and my ideas to other views and other ideas. So, there may be better views out there, and I want to hear about those. I want to listen to other views and understand them more. And, I want to be clear about this, that this doesn’t mean that we’re tolerating or condoning harmful views, harmful ideas, harmful opinions, but I think we can learn to engage more skillfully with opinions that we don’t like, opinions that we disagree with. But again, this whole process really starts with us. So, this episode of, are we listening to understand, it’s an invitation to ourselves. But, it also turns into an invitation to assess how others are listening to ourselves. If somebody comes to me and they’re asking me a question that’s on a hot topic and I get the sense that they want to understand my view, I would happily sit and discuss it and have a civil conversation about a difficult topic.

I think that would be relatively easy, but it would be very difficult if I sense that that person is not listening to understand. They’re listening to assess and listening to decide whether, or not I am one of them, or I’m the enemy, if I’m on the other team. And, if that’s the case, I personally feel like, well, what’s the point of playing that game? The moment I make it clear to you that I’m on the other team, I’m not sure I’m going to stand firm about specific views and ideas that I hold. But, there may be instances or circumstances where I think, “Well, I don’t think you need to hear my view on this, because it’s just my view and that’s it, and we don’t really need to get into it. You’re just going to view me as your enemy if I elaborate on this. So, why elaborate on it? Let’s just …”

Or the other thing that I’ll do often is, be honest and say, “I don’t know. I feel like it could be this or that, but the truth is I don’t know. So, I’m open.” And, that creates space for the person who’s assessing you to think, “Okay, well, that I can discuss this more with them.” And, you can develop your strategy, see what works with you and what works with different people. I mean, this is different with friends than it is with family, different with close family, like a spouse or a partner than it is with maybe a distant cousin or something. But, again, I think that the invitation here, the challenge for this week is to notice what is your default style of listening? Are you listening to understand, or are you defending your opinion perhaps with more zeal and more energy than maybe skillfully required for the goal that you’re trying to achieve?

What, if the goal of our conversations was to understand each other, rather than to a figure out who is more right than the other, or how I’m to convince you to view the world like me. So again, those were just the ideas I wanted to share around this topic, but the next thing I wanted to share is an item of news, and that is, in the past, I’ve done these trips to Uganda, humanitarian mindfulness trips. I’ve done two of them. And then I took a break, rather than planning to do another one, I held off because I’ve had in the works this tentative idea to do a trekking mindfulness trip to Nepal. And, I’m excited to announce that, that is now officially going to happen November 15th of 2019. So, we’re still 10 months out, there’s plenty of time to think about this, but what I want to do is, an adventure trekking/mindfulness retreat.

Now, why Nepal? Nepal has a lot of significance for Buddhism. It’s where the Buddha was born. What is today Nepal back then it was India. There are many temples and pilgrimage type sites, but what I want to do is actual trekking. Nepal is world famous for its trekking and one of the regions there is called the Annapurna range. And so, what I’m proposing to put together, and if any of you are interested keep listening, is a 15 day itinerary where we would start in Kathmandu and then we would do a 15 day a trek. Everyday we trek to a new little town where we stay and this would be, a part mindfulness retreat where every morning there would be group meditation, guided meditation, silent meditation, plenty of walking meditation, because that’s what we’re doing all day.

We would be having group discussions around a really deep concepts of getting to know ourselves, and having the time to put it into practice, because you may discuss a deep concept and then it’s okay, let’s walk for an hour and really think about this. And, then pause and imagine just sitting there and talking about these things, and glancing over and there’s mountain Everest, or the other incredible mountains on the Annapurna range, I think would be a really neat experience. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. So, it’ll be a small group. I’m going to cap this at probably 13 to 14 individuals and we would spend 15 days together trekking through Nepal, talking about mindfulness, and Buddhism, and deep concepts, and just seeing and experiencing the incredible culture of Nepal. Seeing ancient Buddhist temples and all the cool things that we’re going to see there.

So, I’ve put that together with a really neat outfitter group that’s based in Nepal. We’ve been talking for just over a year now and it’s going to be an incredible trip. Now, I don’t have all the details ready to publish yet, but for now you can visit mindfultrekking.com to learn the most basic details of the trip. I will be updating that site next week with more details, with the full itinerary, so you can see the schedule from day one through day 15. But for now, you can go there and if you’re interested enter your email address, that way I have it and I can send you the notification when all the details are there and it’s actually open to register. It’s going to be a really cool trip. So, if you didn’t get the chance, if you went to Africa, awesome. If you didn’t get the chance to do any of our Africa trips, this would be a really fun one.

This trip is geared for the average person, average level of fitness to be able to complete it. There are plenty of ups and downs, we’ll never go higher than 6,000 feet in elevation. So, it’s not an intense trek, but just keep in mind there are plenty of ups and downs and stairs that you would have to navigate over the course of these 15 days. So, if he had bad knees, that might be a consideration or … But the average person with the average level of fitness would be able to complete this. So, check that out, mindfultrekking.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, like always share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. You can join the online community, which I’m actually in the process of making a pretty big shift and change with this, I’ll announce that in a future podcast episode. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click the donate button. But that’s all I have for now and I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon, and giving you more details about the mindfulness retreat and trekking in Nepal. Thanks again for listening, until next time.

85 – Sometimes We Try Too Hard

Sometimes we fail because we try too hard, other times because don’t try hard enough. The trick is to find the right balance, the space in between, the space that is often referred to in Buddhism as The Middle Way. In this podcast episode, I will discuss the idea of the Middle way in terms of space and time.

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Transcript:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 85. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. and today I’m talking about trying too hard, not trying hard enough, and the beauty of finding the middle way. Before I jump into that, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice, “Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.”

Now one of the most important impacts Buddhism has had on my life is fully introducing me to this concept of the middle way. I want to start out talking about a story of a monk named Sona. This is a monk who was trying to be good at meditating, trying to live a more mindful life like many of us are trying to be better whatever we already are. In the Parable of the Lute, we learn about Sona becoming discouraged with his meditation practice, and he goes to visit the Buddha for advice. In the story, Sona, despite all the effort and energy he was putting into his practice, he grows discouraged and disappointed. His meditation practice that was supposed to be the very source of great peace and happiness and contentment in his life ends up being the very source of discontent for him. Sona had been taught to be mindful, even when walking, and he took this to heart to the point where he practiced so intensely that his feet developed blisters and he bled and he was getting discouraged. This wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for him.

When the Buddha heard about this, he went to see Sona, and he says, “I have heard that you are not getting the results you were hoping for from your meditation practice.” Supposedly, Sona at this point was considering just quitting the practice and going back to how life was before he had ever become a monk, and the Buddha reminded him that before becoming a monk, he was known for being a skilled lute player. He played the lute, a small guitar-like stringed instrument. Sona replied, “Yeah, I was able to produce good music.” Then the Buddha asks him, “Well, what happened when the strings were too tightly wound up?” Sona replied, “Well, couldn’t produce good music if the strings were too tight, and the strings could break.” The Buddha said, “Well, what happened when the strings were too loose?” Sona again replied, “Well, I couldn’t produce good music when they were too loose.”

In this simple exchange, the simple teaching, the Buddha helped Sona to understand that he had essentially been trying too hard, trying too hard to be mindful, trying too hard to do it the right way when there really isn’t a right way. The reminder here is that the skillful way to play the lute is with the strings that are not too tight and not too loose, and Sona understood this teaching. In the story, he decided to continue practicing. He found his middle way and went on to become enlightened, as it so often happens in these stories.

I love this story, particularly becomes … It seems to be incredibly profound and yet such a simple teaching. We are like the lute, and we have that middle way where the strings are not too tight and they’re not too loose. We’re not trying too hard. It’s somewhere in between. We’re trying too hard and we’re not trying hard enough. You can think of this concept when applied to anything in your life. Not just mindfulness practice, but think of this as a partner, as a spouse, as a parent. I’m sure all of you know a parent that seems to be trying too hard or you know parents who just don’t seem to be trying hard enough or coworkers or your boss or anyone in almost any aspect of life. You can identify someone who seems to be trying too hard or not trying hard enough.

I’m sure with some, a little bit of self-reflection, introspection, you could identify this about you as well, but here’s the catch. It’s not about identifying this in others. This teaching, the Buddha didn’t come and say, “Oh, tweak those strings a little bit, three centimeters to the left.” It wasn’t that. The whole teaching was to understand that you are the lute. You are the lute and you are also the lute player, and only you can discover that middle way, your middle way. Only you can ask yourself honestly, “Am I trying too hard or am I not trying hard enough?” That’s part of this quest. That’s what this mindfulness practice is about. In Sona’s case, it wasn’t working for him because he was trying too hard.

Now for me, my entire journey with Buddhism and mindfulness practice has been about finding my middle way, that place where I am at peace, the music seems to be playing just right, at least for me. But it can be difficult at times because we have this inner critic that thinks it knows all about music and how music should be played and how it should sound. That critic is heavily influenced by societal norms, religious and political views, and everything else that falls under the collective label of the conditioned mind. So, I want to share another analogy kind of exploring this whole topic of trying too hard. Really, this is the teaching of the middle way.

Imagine for a moment that you’re driving a car. I’m sure most of us listening have this experience of knowing what it is to be driving a car. Now when we’re driving a car, all of the inputs have to do with now, the present moment. Even though you’re looking towards the future, let’s call that looking through the windshield, you don’t actually start to turn the steering wheel until you are in the turn. If you get that timing wrong, you’re in big trouble. You don’t just say, “Oh, here comes a turn,” boom, I start turning. It would be highly unskillful. You wait. You see it coming, and then when you enter the turn, you do the inputs in the present moment. Anticipating a big turn, you can start slowing down now. That’s something that you’re doing in the present in anticipation of something that’s happening in the future, but, again, if you get the timing wrong, you’re in big trouble.

To me, this is the essential lesson of the middle way that is so often spoken of in Buddhist teachings. It’s the timing of everything we do in the present moment. I like to call this the eternal now. Many of us live our lives driving this car by looking through the rear view mirror, and, as you can imagine, this as highly unskillful. It can cause incredible, unnecessary suffering for ourselves and for others on the road when we drive this way.

Then there’s another aspect of this that I want to explore as part of the analogy. I’m sure you’ve experienced what it’s like to drive with a backseat driver. This is when you’re driving and someone is telling you where to turn, when to turn, slow down, speed up, or it could just come in the form of they’re just chatting, telling you a long drawn-out story when you’re trying to focus on driving and it’s distracting you from driving. I’m sure we’ve all experienced this to some degree or another or we’ve been that backseat driver.

But what I want to get at with this analogy is what if we understood that we are the backseat driver? That inner narrator, the thoughts that are so prevalent in our mind, the voice in our head, that is the backseat driver. I’m not saying that the backseat driver is wrong, that we need to eliminate the backseat driver. The backseat driver is sometimes right. It’s not about saying, “Okay, inner narrator, you are wrong.” That’s not the point. Before, we just assumed whatever the inner narrator says must be right. It’s not that. I think we evolved to have this inner critic, this inner narrator, as a survival mechanism. It’s trying to keep us safe, but that doesn’t mean it’s always right and that’s the important thing here. I’ve been driving at times where I’m grateful that someone yelled, “Hey, watch out. There’s a deer,” because I didn’t notice it, and thanks to the other voice, I was able to act skillfully and not hit the deer.

I’ve also had experiences where someone’s like, “Oh, no, watch out for that hole,” and I slow down, all freaked out and realize, What hole? There is no hole. It was dark and they couldn’t see, or they were half asleep and they just woke up and blurted something out. I’ve had that happen too. And that’s kind of like what happens in our mind. It’s not about deciding the voice is always right or the voice is always wrong. I think it’s more about understanding that it’s somewhere in between, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, and it takes a little bit of skill. Most of us go through our lives assuming that everything in our head is right. My thoughts, my beliefs, my memories, they’re all correct.

Quick side note on memories. In the last podcast episode, I told you guys about the experience with my wife and that message of trying to go to Antarctica. Well, I was sharing that with her and turns out she has an entirely different memory of how that all played out. It wasn’t Antarctica. It was Africa. Just the details were all different, and it was really funny. We started laughing as we were comparing our notes and then we laughed, saying, “Well, the memory is probably somewhere in between the two,” between my memory and hers. That brings about this whole other lesson that can be had, which is don’t trust your own memories. They’re not always right. I’ve experienced this multiple times with my twin brother when we recall past stories where we know we were both there, but we both recall the experience slightly differently. Again, that could be a whole nother podcast episode, but the lesson is don’t believe your own thoughts all the time. They may be wrong.

I think that’s exactly what this lesson is trying to get us to understand is that that voice in our mind may be wrong, it may be right, and what if we could live with that uncertainty of sometimes we don’t know? We see that the middle way is about understanding this Parable of the Lute and the strings, whether or not they’re too tight or they’re too loose. I think also it’s about time and understanding that we live in the eternal now, and the middle way is the intersection between the past and the future. We live in the middle way, the eternal now. It’s what we’re living in now. Then you apply this to the other teaching with the strings. Are we trying too hard or are we not trying hard enough? It’s the timing of it all.

Going back to this inner narrator for a moment, we tend to think of the voice as omniscient. It’s always right. It knows what others are thinking about us. It generates fears about things that haven’t happened yet. It judges. It certainly has a lot of opinions, and perhaps the most important of all of these is it never stops talking. But what if we acknowledged that that voice is sometimes wrong, and how does it feel to recognize that it may be wrong? It may be right, but we don’t know for certain, and we don’t need to silence the inner writer. We just need to change the relationship we have with it. We need to understand that, yes, it may be wrong. We need to become more comfortable with the uncertainty of what that voice often claims to know as truth. This is the truth about what you’re thinking about me. This is the truth about why you’re doing what you’re doing.

What would it be like to have a little bit more uncertainty and to be comfortable with that uncertainty? To me, that is one of the important aspects of this teaching. Now, again, I cannot emphasize enough the importance of understanding that the answer to the question, Am I trying too hard or am I not trying hard enough? there is no solid answer to that. It can be helpful to have somebody give us another perspective, often a teacher or a family member, somebody who can see us from another perspective. That can be helpful, but that doesn’t mean that they’re right.

The whole point of introspective practice, what we’re trying to accomplish with mindfulness as a practice with Buddhism, as a tool of becoming a better whatever we already are, it’s helping you to answer that question about yourself and what aspects of your life are you trying too hard. What would happen if you toned it down and try a little less hard? Or, the flip side, what if you were to discover, maybe I’m not trying hard, hard enough. Maybe that’s why this relationship is failing. Maybe I can try a little harder, see what happens.

But keep in mind it could be the opposite. It could be that this isn’t working out because you are trying too hard, but you get to discover that. This is the beauty of this process, is this is you discovering. Now, again, in my personal life, this has been incredibly powerful for me. Whether it’s in my career as an entrepreneur, as a husband, as a father, as a brother, as a child, in any of my relationships, I’m trying to always find that middle way. When am I trying too hard? When am I not trying hard enough to be a good friend? Am I trying too hard? Am I not trying hard enough? You have to find that yourself. That’s part of this process.

That’s the challenge I want to leave with you for this week. Try to notice throughout the week what that inner critic is saying. What is that voice saying? Then ask yourself, “Am I trying too hard? Am I not trying hard enough?” In terms of timing, ask yourself, “Am I jumping the gun? Should I have waited longer? Did I wait too long?” Analyze a little bit of what’s happening in life and try to switch from that form of reactive living to more skillful action and see what you notice. You may notice yourself becoming less reactive. Try it this week. See how it feels. That’s the topic I wanted to share with you today.

Again, as always, if you want to learn more about Buddhism and mindfulness, you can check out my books, Secular Buddhism, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, and my most recent one, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal. You can learn about all of these on my website, noahrasheta.com. That’s N-O-A-H R-A-S-H-E-T-A.com. As always, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. If you would like to join our online community, visit secularbuddhism.com/community.

A side note on that, I have some big news with some changes that I’m going to be doing in the next week or two, by the end of the year. I have an entirely new approach that I want to take to this concept of community and sangha and being able to take advantage of working with each other as we all embark on this path of trying to be better whatever we already are. Stay tuned for that news, and if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Donate button in the top right.

That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

84 – Practicing Daily Mindfulness

In this podcast episode, I will discuss some of the exercises and introspective questions that I believe can lead to a more mindful way of living. These are exercises that are published in the new book “The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal.”

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Transcript:

Hello and welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 84. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about how to practice mindfulness daily.

Before I jump into that, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice to not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are. Now on the past couple of episodes I’ve been talking about the four noble truths with the acronym ELSA, as a reminder to apply those as tasks, the eight-fold path was the last episode and today I wanted to talk a little-bit about some ideas and tips and exercises regarding how to actually practice mindfulness in our day to day living.

Now I wanna bring to your attention something, with the eight-fold path it can seem like there’s this structured way of trying to go about living and that can seem to contradict other episodes where I’ve talked about the idea of living artfully and I had a recent message from a Podcast listener who brought up this point and said, with concepts that I share from time to time, the idea that when you try the trying has lost the whole point or teachings like the gate-less gate to at times some Buddhist’s concepts and teachings can seem contradictory and their implications of what’s being taught with trying to do something and having effort vs not trying to do something and just going with the flow and in that case, why even try?

So what I explained as a response to this email, was the idea that effort is something that we exert at any given time for many different reason, it’s always happening. So the idea again, is to be more skillful in where we exert our effort. You can think of this, the analogy I gave in the email. I don’t know if it’s the best one but it was to visualize the events taking place on the Titanic in those final hours as it was sinking. There was a lot of effort being exerted to accomplish certain things. I’m sure in the… I don’t know what they call it but where the captain and all the officers are, there was a lot going on there. We know that on deck there was a lot of effort being made to keep the band playing music.

I don’t know I’m sure somewhere in the kitchen somebody may have been exerting effort to put away the dishes or to clean them. I don’t know but the point is to be able to pause and say, where’s the most skillful place to exert my effort and in the case of the Titanic it would have been to get as many people on the lifeboats as possible in the quickest amount of time and we know that’s not how that went down unfortunately.

So it’s kind of like that. It’s being able to pause and take inventory in our own lives with whatever the situation at hand is. Am I exerting the most skillful effort in the most skillful direction. That’s kind of the point here, it’s not saying that we shouldn’t have effort, that we shouldn’t do thing that we shouldn’t try to be better. It’s saying, try to understand why do you feel the need to be better in the first place because when you understand yourself you can be more skillful with where you exert that effort.

Which brings me to the point of this episode, this is why I wanted to talk about why even practice mindfulness? What is the point of being more mindful and I want to emphasize what I’ve echoed before in previous episodes. Which is that you don’t need to be more mindful. This content is relevant information for people who want to be more mindful. It’s the saying that goes, “Ignorance is bliss.” That’s true up until the point where ignorance isn’t bliss. Ignorance can be bliss in some circumstances and some instances and for certain amount of time but then life changes just like the game of Tetris, a new shape shows up and suddenly you are living a new set of circumstances where the ignorance isn’t bliss.

It’s causing yourself and those around a lot of unnecessary suffering and I think this happens a lot. This is certainly what happened with me in my own life with experiencing going through changes of events in life that caused me to suddenly be experiencing a lot of suffering and lot of my suffering was passing onto others around, those closest to me and there came to be this moment where I didn’t wanna feel that way anymore. I wanted to understand the nature of my emotions and my thoughts and my feelings and that path, that allowed to me exert more effort to be more mindful and others to learn more about myself and that’s something I cannot emphasize with this entire discussion and journey about Buddhism and mindfulness and all of this stuff, it’ll never give you the answers to life’s big questions, the mysteries of the cosmos.

It’s not about that. It’s going to unlock something that I believe is incredibly more mysterious and profound which is the nature of your own thoughts. Why do you think and say and do the things that you do? Only you can discover that about yourself and that’s the whole point of mindfulness as a practice. Now it’s important to recognize, you cannot force yourself to be more mindful. It’s not like i can just sit here and will myself to be more mindful in the same way that I cannot force myself to be more smart.

If I want to learn something, it’s gonna take time, it’s gonna take effort. I’m gonna have to pick up a book, read about this subject or topic that I wanna learn more about. Get a study manual, highlight things in the manual, watch tutorials and educational videos online about it. It takes effort on my part to learn about a new subject, it does for all of us and it’s the same way when it comes to learning more about ourselves. If you want to be more mindful and aware of yourself, well guess what? It’s gonna take some time and you’re gonna have to spend some time studying and observing yourself and in that sense, that’s where mindfulness as a practice comes in. It’s something that you continually work on and you can continually get to know yourself and the game doesn’t end because of the nature of things being impermanent, the you that you’re getting to know is a changing you. So if you think you finally figured yourself out, well guess what? The game keeps going because you’re always a new you.

So that’s something to keep in mind in all of this. Now when we typically talk about mindfulness, the most Buddhist schools and traditions, they would mention that mindfulness has essentially two layers; it’s being in the present moment and I think this is the most important part, having a none judgemental awareness of being in the present moment. For example, if I am sitting with the experience of being angry. I’m allowing myself to feel angry because that is the natural thing that I’m experiencing, that’s the first layer. The second layer is experiencing anger and not judging myself for having the experience of feeling angry.

So it doesn’t mean that we’re eliminating the stories that give rise to these emotions. It’s more about changing the relationship we have with our stories. It’s about no longer believing our stories, recognizing that our stories are just stories and one of those stories in this example I just gave is that, it’s wrong to be angry. So as long as I have the story “it’s wrong to be angry” now I experience anger and I’m adding a more complex layer because now I’m angry that I’m angry. So that’s something that we start to dissect in this whole process of exploration of trying to be more mindful and keep in mind that mindfulness is not just about feeling good. Although, you can feel really good about being mindful and practicing mindfulness.

It’s more about being good at feeling because you will feel everything that arises, the instances of discontent and anger and sadness and all of it. You’re going to be really good at feeling. So this is why I recently wrote my newest book is, the Five Men At Mindfulness Journal, that was my goal was what I’ve encountered over and over as I meet other people who either listen to the podcast or practice meditation or mindfulness of some sort, something that seems to be common that I encountered in my own path with trying to be more mindful is how do you actually do it? How do you spend time to become more insightful and understand yourself better.

Sure I can sit in meditation and I can watch my breathe for what seems like eternity but how is that gonna… What starts actually to help to get to know me and I wanted to share some of the exercises and things that have really worked for me in my own mindfulness practice but present them in a way where they’re easy to put into practice in your own day to day life. I think I’ve echoed this before as well that a consistent practice is far more beneficial then a deep or long or profound practice.

Sure you can go sit in a forest and spend a ten day meditation and it’s going to do a lot of great things that it may or may not but a lot of people report that things like that are beneficial but lets just bring us to the average day to day life, the average person, if you’re like me, we’re probably not gonna go sit in a mountain monastery for ten days or a month or years. We are busy with jobs, raising children, dealing with spouses and dealing with the traffic, driving to work. Is there a way for the average person to also experience these profound benefits of mindful as a practice and for me the resounding answer is, absolutely yes because I’ve experienced this in my own life all while carrying on the ordinary day to day tasks of being a son and a father and a spouse and a sibling and a coworker and a boss and an employee and everything else that I am.

So with that in mind I wanted to share some of the ideas and exercises that I think have worked really well. So the book is full of these but I’m going to share a few of them with you in this podcast episode with the goal of giving you a taste of what daily mindfulness practice can be. So take a moment an pause, you may be driving or doing something where you cannot do this. The way it’s intended in the journal, the journal is intended to be written in. So if you’re in a position where you can do this go ahead and do this but you can ask yourself, what do I feel right now and take inventory. Label the feeling, it can be hunger, tired, excited, rushed, whatever it is, take inventory of how you feel right now and once you have a label or a few labels ’cause most likely you feel several things right now.

Then spend a moment and try to ask yourself where does this feeling come from? what gives rise to this feeling? For example I feel X and it’s probably because of Y, write those down, “I feel X and I feel it because…” and write that down and once you have this little list you can pause the podcast at this point and work on that but once you have this list then the invitation is to dig deeper, “I feel this because of this but now lets look at that Y. Why do I feel that?” And you can you can do this many, many layers and I’ll give you an example in my own life.

Before I had ever gotten into mindfulness practice or even knew what Buddhism was, I hadn’t experienced at work once and my wife and I both worked at the same place and we were in cubicles and it was a really big building. So we would communicate through instant messenger on our computers and I had this bright idea. I can’t even remember what it was but I have this bright idea according to me and I was texting my wife explaining my bright idea. Which was something along the lines of I’m gonna this vacation time that we have. We didn’t have kids yet and I think if I recalled this correctly, she was pregnant. So we were gonna have a little-bit of time before [Rye ko 00:13:32] was born and I had amassed some time with, I think vacation time or sick time at work and same with some money and so my bright idea was this, I’m gonna use my time and before [Rye ko 00:13:47]’s born. She had no interest in ever going to visit Antarctica but I did.

So I thought, why don’t I get that trip our of the way ’cause it’s a bucket list item for me and I’ll go visit Antarctica. It’ll be a one or two week trip and then when I come back then i’s a few more months then the baby’s born and then we carry on with life but I will have achieved this bucket list item and to me in my mind it all sounded brilliant. So I share all this with her in this text message and then I can’t remember the exact order of events but I think I rethought it and then sent her this message saying, actually no maybe that’s not a good idea.

Maybe it wouldn’t work ’cause of blah blah blah and then she replied to my message with this long elaborate text that was clearly not meant for me saying, “Oh he finally just changed his idea. I’m so glad he realized what a dumb idea it was man because blah blah blah.” And going off on telling somebody else what I had just told her and the way she painted it made it seem wow, what a horrible idea and I’m glad he saw that it was a horrible idea, so I didn’t have to tell him.

And I felt so offended. First of all, I felt mad that I was like, “Why wouldn’t she just tell me. Why does she have to confide in someone else about what a bad idea this is?” So I replied away and I was like, “I don’t think you meant that for me.” And acting all indignant, right? Because, she criticized my idea. So to me that was one of those instances of, I feel X and it’s probably because of Y.

So in my case, I feel upset because my wife just called me out… well I guess not directly to me unintentionally, made me appear a fool to someone, to whoever she meant that message to go through and I was just really angry with that. It wasn’t until much later that I could, sit with the emotion and I learned this whole process of introspection and I replayed several instances in my past, this is one of them where I thought, “Why did that bother me so much when I got that text? When I got that message that totally shot me down as a crazy person with dumb ideas.” And what I realized was from from my perspective, my idea didn’t seem crazy but that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t crazy.

It very well may have been and it certainly was to her based on her perspective and perhaps I would’ve needed to have it elaborated a little-bit more on why I was thinking what I was thinking but so anyway, what I discovered the deeper thing for me in that whole example was the realization that I have a story about myself and that story is that I come up with good ideas. I always have ideas that of course to me they’re good ideas and I was being confronted with this harsh reality that my great ideas aren’t great to everyone and here was someone close to me that I thought would certainly see my brilliance of my ideas and she didn’t and I realized she actually thought it was actually a dumb idea.

So it was my reality of me being someone who has good ideas, was being confronted with the harshness of reality which is that, no not all your ideas are good or at least not to everyone and that created conflict in me ’cause I had to maintain my story of, well no the problem has to be her, it’s not me and my ideas ’cause I have good ones that’s part of my story. So anyway what I wanted to get at was the digging deeper. How did I feel? why did I feel and why did I feel what I felt?

So I was going through a few layers that revealed in my instance, in my example, it revealed something about me to me. Which is I have a story that when confronted with reality at times will run into problems which is, if someone doesn’t think my idea’s good, I’m going to have problems with that. So again, with time that allowed me to realize, okay I can accept a new reality which is, no not all of my ideas are good, at least not to everyone else. Even if they’re good ideas to me doesn’t means they’re gonna be good ideas to others.

Okay I kinda went on a tangent with that. So lets go back to this concept of thinking. As an exercise you can ask yourself, is thinking something that I do or is it something that’s happening to me and in fact, the very fact that I just asked this question has probably sent your mind on a new trajectory that you are not able to control. What did you immediately think after I asked you that question? Is thinking something that you’re doing or something that’s happening to you or any question?

Anytime someone ask you a question and you’re thinking of an answer, can you help the fact that, that answer is what popped into your head? That, that specific thought or idea is what arose in your mind, can you help that? I don’t think that you can and in terms of interdependence, everything is influencing our thoughts at all times and marketers know this. This is why we’re always being bombarded with messaging that tries to influence us and when a thought arises, oh I need to have this or that. I gotta have it, whatever that is. Were you really able to help it? I don’t think so.

I don’t think we’re in control as much as we think we are. So and then there’s the problem of the inter-narrator. Our brain is wired in a way that gives rise to the narrator of our thoughts and part of what we want to achieve with mindfulness practices, understanding the nature of our mind, getting to know the inter-narrator and ultimately befriending or at least having a more skillful relationship with the inter-narrator and I’ve mentioned this before but that voice in our head, that is the narrator. We all have one.

Most likely your inter-narrator sounds a lot like you. It’s like you’re hearing your own voice. It’s the one that probably laughs at your own jokes and, or it’s the heckler in the crowd that makes fun of everything that you’re trying to do. For some that voice can be downright mean and nasty but it is the voice and it’s the one that even now, some people may be listening to this saying, “No I don’t have a voice, there’s not a voice inside my head.” Well that’s it that’s the inner-voice. Meet your inner-narrator.

So here’s an exercise that you can do when it comes this process of understanding and meeting your inner-narrator. You can ask yourself, what are some of the characteristics of my inner-narrator? Is it mean? Is it nice? Is it a bold voice? Is it a shy voice and think about it and just write down some of the characteristics that you would attribute to this inner-narrator and you can ask yourself, “Well why do I even want to get to know this inner-narrator?”

Well I said before for many of us, the inner-narrator is mean and cruel, it can often make our lives feel miserable. It can be demanding, it’s always saying, “I want this and I don’t want that.” And it has this whole list of wants and it has this whole list of things to avoid, right? This is kind of the Buddhist concept of the three poisons there. The desires are the things the inner-narrator is saying, “I gotta have that.” And then there are the eversions, the things that the inner-narrator saying, “No get away from that, we don’t want any of that in our lives.”

And it can be super controlling. It’s a control freak. So here’s another exercise, I want you to take a moment and think about what is the meanest thing you’ve ever said or done to someone and, or that you’ve seen someone do to someone else and try to recall, how did that feel as you were witnessing or experiencing this? You can just write it down, it’s a quick journal entry, a memory and ask yourself, what was that experience like? Just think about that for a moment and then what we’re gonna do for this exercise is reflect inward and the question you’re gonna ask yourself is, what is the meanest thing you’ve done or said to yourself and how does that feel?

And this may be a past experience but it may be a current, a present experience, an ongoing one. Something that you continually say or do to yourself and just pause and reflect, how does it feel to treat yourself the way that you do and the inner-narrator isn’t always mean. It’ll do nice things to, part of its job is to protect us, right? We’re hardwired as a species to survive. So a lot of the harshness that comes from the inner-narrator is done coming from a place of love you could say. A place of instinctual survival. It says, don’t wear that you look like an idiot because ultimately it’s trying to protect you because if you look like an idiot you may be ostracized from the group, if you’re not in the group you’re gonna be cast out and if you get cast out we’re gonna die, right?

That’s the thinking that’s going on that’s underneath the meanness at times of this inner-narrator and I think that’s important to know. So what we want to try to spend time with is imagine that you’re meeting the inner-narrator and I want you to think of five compliments that you could give your inner-narrator. It may be difficult to conceptualize this as you meeting your inner-narrator. A quick easy way to do this is just to imagine that you are meeting yourself from yesterday.

That you of yesterday is meeting the you of right now and what would be five compliments and perhaps five complaints if you wanna have a frank discussion with yourself, what are five things you like about yourself and five things you don’t like about yourself and try to analyze these things through that lens of introspection of, you the inner-narrator trying to protect yourself often from things you don’t realize are the hidden motives of why you are or the way that you are to yourself.

So just keep that in mind and look at this list of the five complaints and five compliments and see I don’t know, what insight arises out of that. Another exercise you can do is think of a good friend. What are some of the characteristics of a good friend. What is it that makes a good friend, a good friend and write down some of these qualities or attributes. Again, this is what separates a friend from a good friend. So everyone’s list is gonna be a little-bit different but think about what that entails for you.

What makes your good friends, your good friends and look at look at that list and now imagine what would it be if you were that good friend to yourself? How would your life be different if you were a better friend to yourself and list five things that you can start doing right now, to be a better friend to yourself and this exercise works even when you’re thinking of others to. If you wanna just be a better friend in general, how can you be a better friend to others? How can you go from being a friend to a good friend to someone else that you care about?

So this kinda has a two part thing where it can benefit you as far as your relationships with others but it’s meant to really start with the core. Which is you befriending yourself. So think about that and write those things down and remember there’s this quote that says “You, yourself as much as anybody else in the entire universe deserve your love and affection.” And I want to end this kind of on that note.

This is why I wrote the five minute mindfulness journal as a process. A place where you can visit. Literally it takes five minutes or less everyday looking at some of these questions and exercises and the book is packed with them. I gave you what, three or four? The book is packed with them and it’s broken into various sections. Section one is you are not your thoughts. Two is the inner-narrator. Three is befriending your inner-narrator. Four is finding peace in the struggle. Next is self acceptance, then gratitude and then the last section of the book is exercises around cultivating love and kindness.

So again the way this book is structured as a journal. It’s meant to be a book that you read and that you write in the book and these exercises that you work on and the things that you write are meant to give rise to insight and wisdom into the nature of yourself, your own mind. Your thoughts, your feelings, your emotions, the things that you say and think and do. It’s a journal about you. It’s about you getting to know you, having a better understanding and ultimately changing the relationship that you with yourself.

I can guarantee you there’s nothing mysterious that you’re gonna gain in this about the cosmos or about life. There will absolutely be ah-hah moments when it comes to understanding you and yourself. Which I think is incredibly more profound at least in my opinion but again as I mentioned earlier in this book, who am I to think that my ideas are good? Obviously, to some people that are not but I haven’t gotten to Antarctica yet but it’s still in the works and now that I talked about this and recalled that story, I think I’ve rekindled the desire to get that one crossed off my bucket list and go to Antarctica.

Hopefully my wife will think it’s a good idea. Hopefully she’ll wanna come with me now that this is ten years after that. We’ll see. I guess you’ll know when you hear about it if and when I go, if she comes with me, you guys will all be a part of that inside joke knowing that story about us and our past and her thinking what a dumb idea it was for me to wanna go to Antarctica.

Okay so that’s all I have for this episode. Hopefully you’ve enjoyed the sequence of thoughts and ideas from the past three episodes, starting with the four noble truth, the eight-fold path and then this one, the invitation to start to apply practices where you sit and get to know yourself. I can promise you that one of the most impactful changes that you’ll have on your life is the change in the dynamic, the relationship that you have with yourself, with your own thoughts, with your feelings and with your emotions.

To be able to be skillful in where you exert this effort of controlling who are and how you wanna and the things that you wanna do. So that’s the invitation with this podcast you can pick up the book it’s available now on Amazon. It’s called Five Minute Mindfulness Journal or it’s called The Five Minute Mindfulness Journal, sorry and you can search for it just with name or with the title of the book. I will have link, so if you go to secularbuddhism.com you can find it there as well but that’s all I have for now.

Again if you wanna learn more about these concepts, you can check out the other book, No Nonsense Buddhism For Beginners and I think that will compliment this one pretty well now. That one is the teachings and ideas and this one is practices and exercises. You can learn more about that on Everyday Buddhism or secularbuddhism.com and as always if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. You can join the online community secularbuddhism.com/community, it’s just a Facebook group and if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast please visit secularbuddhism.com, click the donate button and that is all I have for now but as always, I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.

Until next time.

83 – The Path of Liberation / The Eightfold Path

The essence of many of the Buddha’s discourses and teachings can be found in the Eightfold Path, often referred to as the Path of Liberation. It is not a path we walk only once or in a particular order. It’s meant to be a guide for specific areas of life in which we can experience and discover the nature of reality.

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Transcript:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 83, I am your host Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the Eightfold Path.

As always, before I jump into the topic, keep in mind the Dalai Lama’s advice, “Do not use what you learned from Buddhism to be a Buddhist, use it to be a better whatever you already are.” So with that, I want to recap. In the last podcast episode, I talked about the Four Noble Truths, or the four truths for those who would be noble, or the four tasks, however you want to think of that framing, with the acronym ELSA, which E is embrace the instance of suffering, the first truth. L, let go of the reactive pattern … And remember, what we’re letting go of is the pattern, not reactivity itself. I think this is a misconception that I want to be clear about.

It’s not that we let go of reactivity, and that we won’t react in any negative way when something arises. That’s not what this is about. This is the reactive pattern, it’s that one thing leads to another, that leads to another, that leads to another. And somewhere in that chain of reactivity, you can pause, you can see the stopping the reactivity, which is the third one, the S in ELSA. And when you see the stopping of the reactivity, it’s the pattern, you let go of the reactive pattern. That’s not the same thing as letting go of reactivity. I just want to be clear about that.

And with this process of seeing the stopping of reactivity, it’s like asking yourself, “Is the observer of the emotion also experiencing the emotion?” That’s kind of what it’s like to see the stopping of the reactivity, which leads us to the fourth one. The A in ELSA is act skillfully. Keep in mind, this word skillfully is used deliberately, because it’s not about acting the right way versus the wrong way. It’s about understanding ourselves, our intent, and trying to make the most skillful choice with whatever it is that we’re about to do, whatever the situation at hand is.

So the podcast episode for today, the Eightfold Path, is essentially this: act skillfully. How do we act skillfully, and what areas of life? So that’s what I want to talk about in this podcast episode. So the word that’s used in the original writings, when referring to the four noble truths, the fourth truth is a word that’s called … The word is magga, and it’s a polyword, and it means path. So the idea here is that what we’re talking about is a path, and the Buddha taught … In all of his teachings, he dealt with this concept of the path in one way or another.

And it may have been explained differently to different people according to where they were on their own individual paths. The Buddha was known for that, kind of speaking to people and explaining things from where they were, not explaining something that would go over their heads. But the essence of the Buddha’s many discourses and teachings can essentially be found in this idea of the Eightfold Path, often referred to as the path of liberation, or the path to the cessation of suffering.

So I want to talk about this a little bit. The eight parts of the path are typically grouped into three categories. And these categories are wisdom, ethical conduct, and mental discipline. So we’ll go through this, and the Eightfold Path … Keep in mind, this isn’t meant to be followed in sequential order. All eight areas are typically developed simultaneously in an ongoing way. So they’re all linked in the sense that each one helps with the cultivation of the other parts of the path.

So the eight parts of the path grouped in their three categories. The first category is wisdom. The parts of the path that pertain to wisdom are skillful understanding and skillful intent. So understanding and intent are the first two. The next three fall into this category of ethical conduct, and these are skillful speech, skillful action and skillful livelihood. And then the final three fall under the category of mental discipline, and these are skillful effort, skillful mindfulness and skillful concentration.

So again, the Eightfold Path is not a path that we walk once or in a particular order, like you master this, then you move on and you master that one. It doesn’t really work that way. You’ll notice how various segments of the path seem to overlap and rely on each other. And some of them flow into or relate back to each other as well. It’s also not a moral code that’s intended to be follow in the sense of the Ten Commandments or something in Christianity, it’s not really like that.

The components have the word right, typically. Like, if you pick up a book on Buddhism, you’ll probably find that the Eightfold Path is explained with the word right. Right understanding, right intent, right speech, right action. And I think that can be a little bit misleading, because in our Western way of thinking, in our dualistic way of thinking, right has an opposite, it has a wrong. So if I’m doing this right speech, then what is wrong speech? And so that doesn’t really arise in a lot of Eastern thinking, because a lot of Eastern thinking is non-dualistic, so there’s no problem with saying right something, because they’re not opposing that with wrong something. But we do in the West, so I find it more beneficial to use the language of skillful when we’re talking about these things.

So don’t think of these in terms of right versus wrong. Instead, think of them as whys or skillful ways of living. And the Eightfold Path is meant to be a guide for specific areas of life in which we can experience and discover the nature of reality. So this concept of walking the path, it’s an ongoing practice that can bring a new sense of awareness and perspective in our lives, because we’re always on the path.

So let’s talk about the first section related to wisdom. What does it mean to skillful understanding? Well, right or wise understanding starts by simply recognizing that what we’re seeing might not actually be what we think it is, or what it appears to be. So I’ve used this analogy before, but imagine walking into a barn and you see a coiled hose, and you mistake it for a snake. You wouldn’t be experiencing reality, but rather the picture of reality in your head. And you might immediately react as though there really were a snake, giving a gasp or being startled, or turning and running away. Yet, in reality, there is no snake. Wisdom is like turning on the light in the barn and revealing that the snake was actually a hose.

So we’re continually seeking wisdom to help us learn and see the world the way that it really is. And the four noble truths and the Three Marks of Existence, which I didn’t talk about in the last episode, but essentially suffering, impermanence and the concept of no self, or non-self, helps us to have a wise understanding of the nature of reality. So the wisdom of understanding is not about acquiring more knowledge. In fact, I would say it’s the opposite, it’s about trying to unlearn the concepts and ideas that prevent us from seeing reality as it is. So that’s the idea of right or skillful understanding.

So let’s talk about the next one, skillful intent. What does it mean to have skillful intent? If we want to reduce suffering, we need to be aware of the intentions we have regarding the things that we say and do. So when our intentions stem from anger or hatred, they’re more likely to cause harm than if they stem from happiness or gratitude. When we behave reactively, it’s very difficult to be mindful of the intent behind our words and actions, because typically we’re reacting. It takes practice to become aware of our intentions, and you can start this practice by asking yourself, “Why? Why am I reacting this way to the things that are unfolding in life? Why am I feeling anger?”

I like to ask myself, “Why am I experiencing this emotion?” When I notice I’m experiencing and emotion, I like to pause and ask myself that. And you can do that not just when you’re experiencing what we would say are unpleasant emotions, but even the pleasant ones. You can say … If you’re always kind to someone, ask yourself why. “Why am I always kind to this person? Is it because I genuinely care about this person, or am I trying to gain something? Favor with them?” Again, this is just about understanding our intent, and it requires asking a lot of questions.

When you become aware of your intentions, you can decide if you need to create new intentions and perhaps let go of old ones. So this will cause you, ultimately, to speak and act more skillfully. So the whole idea with skillful intent is spend time with yourself and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?” I’ve found in my own life that understanding the intent behind some of the things I say and think and do … It’s really revealed a lot to me about me, the nature of my tendencies and habitual processes and stuff. So again, all of this is meant to be a very personal journey. This is you getting to know you. There’s not an answer that applies to everyone, so only you can unlock and understand your own intent.

So those are the first two. Now let’s move on to the third one, which falls into the category of ethical conduct, so this is the ethical conduct section. We’ll start with skillful speech. What does that mean? Well, the way we communicate, whether it be with ourselves or with others, is an essential part of creating a peaceful and harmonious life. We are social creatures, and communication is the most important part of human relations. So right speech means communicating with others in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary harm, and that includes all forms of communication. When we say skillful speech, we’re not just talking about talking. It’s writing and texting and emailing and facebooking, all forms of communication.

So lying, gossiping or insulting others, those are examples of unskillful speech. That is not skillful speech. But also unskillful speech would be complimenting people when you don’t mean it, giving promises that you don’t intend to keep. Sucking up to someone with the intent of just trying to impress them, that’s also going to fall under this area of unskillful speech. So it’s not just about being nice. With skillful speech, what you’re trying to do is consider why you say something as much as what you’re saying. So the why and the what are equally important.

So consider the different between constructive criticism and destructive criticism. Constructive criticism may be hard to hear, but the goal of it is to help you become better at what you’re doing. The latter is intended just to cause pain. So skillful speech doesn’t always have to be pleasant or nice. It doesn’t need to withhold ideas out of fear that someone might disagree with you. But what we’re trying to accomplish is sincere and genuine communication with the intent of not causing unnecessary harm.

So again, skillful speech is one of those … You have to spend time with this and understand your intent. “Why do I say the things that I say? Why do I say them the way that I say them?” Tone and language and intent, all of that falls in there. So you can evaluate your own speech and determine if you practice skillful communication or skillful speech.

Okay, so let’s move on to the next one, skillful action. What does mean? Is it a set of rules to follow? It essentially means that we’re doing what is proper and necessary for any given situation. So while this sometimes includes — and it certainly doesn’t discourage — a sense of doing the right thing, morally, it more closely resembles a guideline for behaving appropriately in any situation. The problem with having a set moral code is that moral codes change. They evolve over time, and they’re different in different cultures. So adhering to the moral code of another place and another time may not be the wisest form of action for our specific place and time.

And there’s a quote that’s often attributed to H.L. Mencken, that says, “Morality is doing what’s right regardless of what you’re told. Obedience is doing what you’re told regardless of what’s right.” So skillful action is not a set of rules to be followed to the letter in every situation. It’s not about obedience, so … I mean, how could it be when life is continually changing and evolving? Ideally, skillful understanding and skillful thinking and skillful speech will give rise naturally to skillful action, your wisdom leading you to behave fittingly in any scenario, because you are practicing these other aspects of the path.

So if I’m trying to skillful in my communication and understanding my intent, and I have an understanding of the nature of constant chance, it’s going to be more natural for my actions to also be skillful, naturally, not because I’m trying to follow some set of rules. So hopefully that makes sense in terms of this concept of skillful action.

So the next one is skillful livelihood. What does that mean? People will ask, “Does Buddhism consider certain jobs to be better than others?” Well, livelihood in general, it’s how we make a living. It’s how we interact with others while making a living, so it involves what we do and how we are without our co-workers. And again, it’s a personal one. We each need to determine for ourselves if what we do for a living is doing more harm or good for ourselves and others.

And you may be thinking, “Okay, this is obvious. Drug dealers do harm, doctors do good.” But this teaching goes beyond just the type of job, or the type of career that we have. It includes how we interact with our co-workers, with our customers, with the planet. It wouldn’t be skillful livelihood if a doctor were causing harm by taking bribes from a pharmaceutical company and prescribing a certain medicine over another. “Even though it may be a good medicine, there’s one that would be better, but I’m going to prescribe this one, because I benefit from it.” That would be an example of unskillful livelihood, even though in other areas you might be saying, “But it’s a doctor, and they’re helping.”

So ultimately, it’s up to us to make the judgment call regarding the way that we make a living. I think it’s a good idea to incorporate skillful intent in the determination process. Try asking yourself questions like, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” And remember, right livelihood or skillful livelihood, it’s not necessarily about picking a job with the Red Cross or some other humanitarian cause. It’s about doing what you do with the best intent to not cause harm, regardless of what your job is.

I used to work for a company that sold health supplements, and I’ve mentioned this in the podcast for a while. After working there for some time, I kind of became uncomfortable with the sales method that we used, because we would entice people to try the supplement by signing up for a free trial, and then they would be automatically enrolled in a monthly subscription for the supplement, and they were often unaware of that, because that was in the fine print.

And while I believe in the product itself, I was very uncomfortable with the harm and the frustration we were causing on so many people who were not reading the fine print when signing up for their free trial. And for me, this job became an example of feeling like it was not a form of skillful livelihood. I did end up leaving that job and finding another where I didn’t have a conflicting feeling about the livelihood and the way that I was gaining that.

So again, it’s a personal thing. It’s not about a list, “And here are the jobs that are good, and here are the jobs that are bad.” It doesn’t work that way. This is another form of introspection, and it’s you spending time analyzing what you do, and asking yourself if it’s a skillful form of livelihood.

Okay, so now let’s look at the mental disciplines. We’re going to talk about skillful effort. What does it mean? Is it just about trying harder, trying to be better? What does it mean? So skillful effort is what it takes to put into practice all the other parts of the path. It takes effort on our part if we want to experience any kind of positive change in our lives. In order to learn a new skill, whether it be music, sports, business or anything like that, we have to apply effort, and without it we usually make little to no progress.

So in the same way, skillful effort affects everything we do in the world. I’ve talked about this, I’ve been trying to play guitar for about 10 years, and I’ve never actually mastered it, because I’ve had a hard time putting in the effort required to practice. I’ve started and ended lessons over and over and over. But there are other things that I’ve put time into. I’ve put time into having a podcast. Most recently, I’ve dedicated a lot of time and effort to my hobby of paramotoring and paragliding, and I went and became a flight instructor, because that’s something that I want to do. And I know that it takes effort to be the most skillful pilot that I can be, and I wouldn’t be a skillful pilot if I didn’t have the correct amount of effort going into that. So that’s one way of seeing this.

Skillful effort is about dedicating the time and the work required to become more mindful, and to become aware of the nature of reality. Without the effort, there simply cannot be any form of awakening, or realization, or self-awareness, or any of that stuff. And I think this is a common thing to run into. I hear this all the time, people who will say, “Hey, I really want to live more mindfully, and to have more peace and contentment in life.” And that’s it. There’s not enough effort to say, “So I’m willing to meditate.” Or, “I’m willing to read books to understand the nature of human psychology.” Or … There’s no effort to do anything other than, “I just want it, and I want it without having to do anything.” And that’s where we run into trouble, because without effort, how do you have these things?

So again, this is a form of introspection where we evaluate ourselves and say, “How much effort am I putting into the thing that I’m trying to accomplish?” Whether that be … really anything, right? But I think in the Buddhist practice, and in the sense of the Eightfold Path, it’s the effort required to be more awake, to be more mindful, to live with more contentment and joy. And ultimately, again in the Buddhist sense, it’s to achieve enlightenment, to aspire to put in the necessary effort to wake up in the way that the Buddha woke up, that’s what we’re after here.

So the next one. What does it mean to have skillful mindfulness? This is about meditating. Well, skillful mindfulness is about paying attention. Whether we’re meditating or just going about our daily tasks, being mindful helps us to stay anchored in the present moment, and staying anchored in the present moment keeps us in touch with reality as it is. And Thích Nhất Hạnh describes it in this way, which I really like. He says, “When you have a toothache, the feeling is very unpleasant. And when you do not have a toothache, you usually have a neutral feeling. However, if you can be mindful of the non-toothache, the non-toothache will become a feeling of peace and joy. Mindfulness gives rise to, and nourishes, happiness.” I really like that.

In this sense, mindfulness helps us become aware that at any given moment we are capable of experiencing contentment and joy, it’s just a matter of increasing our sphere of awareness. It’s about noticing all of the non-toothaches that we’re currently experiencing. That’s who I like to think of this concept of skillful mindfulness.

Okay, the final of the Eightfold Path is skillful concentration. The question here is, what does that mean? Is it about sitting an focusing on something? Is this the ultimate goal of meditation? Well, skillful concentration is the practice of focusing the mind solely on one thing, whatever it is we’re doing at the moment. And meditation is a great tool to practice concentration. When we think of meditation, we typically think of sitting cross-legged on the floor with our eyes closed, on a cushion or something like that. And yeah, that’s definitely one way to practice, but meditation can be so much more than just sitting. We can practice meditation while we’re washing the dishes, while we’re walking, when we’re listening to our partner or spouse, to our kids, or doing virtually any other activity.

So I find it helpful to think of the opposite of skillful concentration as distraction. Whether it’s the chime on our smartphone indicating that a new text has arrived, or one of the thousands of advertisements that compete for our attention, distraction is … it’s everywhere. Distraction prevents us from seeing life as it really is, and from seeing the truth about the nature of ourselves and others.

And I talked about this story before, if one time when I decided to ride my bike to work instead of driving, and while rounding the bend in the road, I noticed a red barn behind a cluster of trees out in the field. And I had driven past this exact spot almost daily for years, focusing on driving, distracted either by the radio or just thoughts about work, and I’d never really noticed this building. But on this specific day, going slowly and paying attention, I discovered something new that had been there all along. And that’s kind of the idea of skillful concentration.

Imagine how many things are waiting to be discovered or seen about others, about ourselves, when we simply slow down and pay attention and stay aware. That is the essence of skillful concentration, it’s slowing down, trying to notice things that we hadn’t notice before. And not just physical things like the red barn. This is introspective stuff, it’s like saying, “I’ve never sat with my emotions long enough to try to understand them.” And a huge example of this that I’ve given before, is the understanding of sitting with an emotion like anger long enough to understand that the anger was actually not anger, it was anchored in something deeper, a sense of shame, for example, or embarrassment.

So when you sit with an emotion, and you try to understand it more, you learn something about it that that’s what it was all along, but you didn’t know that, because you’re often distracted with other thoughts, and memories, and other emotions. And we try to push some emotions away, some thoughts away, and we don’t sit with them long enough to concentrate. “What does this really feel like? What does it feel like to be experiencing this emotion? Where could this be coming from?” When you sit like that, in that form of concentration, insight arises and you understand, “Oh that’s … Okay, that’s why I’m feeling this way. Oh, that’s why that means so much to me.” That’s the goal of concentration, again, to gain new insight.

So those are the eight sections of the Eightfold Path, and what I hope to do in the next podcast episode, is give some examples of ways that we can actually practice being mindful, because with the Four Noble Truths as tasks, and then the Eightfold Path with descriptions of it all, that’s all great, but in our day-to-day lives what things can we do to actually start practicing this? Do we just sit on a cushion for 15 minutes? What is that going to do? I want to get into that deeper, and give you some actual examples of practices that I do, practices that I apply, and practices that I’ve recently put in my newest book, The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal. Because the goal of all of this is to have something tangible that you can actually put into practice and start applying, and see change, see something beneficial come from all of this, from this practice.

So I’m going to share that in the next podcast episode. But for now, again, thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast. If you want to learn more about these concepts, you can always check out the book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners. You can check out my newest book, which is actually available starting today on Amazon as a pre-order, and that’s The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journey … or journal. The 5-Minute Mindfulness Journal. And that will be available … I think it ships on December 25th, but it is available for pre-order now. And again, the whole purpose of that books is to have actual exercises that you can do in five minutes or less, to start applying mindfulness into your day-to-day life, and gaining more insight and understanding about the nature of your self and the nature of reality.

You can learn about both of those books if you visit my website, noahrasheta.com, I have links in there. I also have a link to the new book on secularbuddhism.com. And as always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, feel free to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. And if you’d like to join the online community, visit secularbuddhism.com/community. And if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Donate button. And that’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording the third section of this overall discussion in the next podcast episode. So until then, thank you, and until next time.