76 – Patience With Ourselves, Others, And Life

What does it mean to be patient with ourselves, others, and life? How do we practice patience? Is Mindfulness practice for everyone? These are a few of the questions and ideas I will explore in this podcast episode. I hope you enjoy this topic and I hope some of this information may be beneficial to you in your day to day lives.

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Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 76. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about patience, patience with ourselves, others and life. As always, 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.

I want to share a quick note before jumping into the topic. That’s this question of who is mindfulness for? I recently returned from teaching a mindfulness workshop in a corporate setting in Canada. One of the regular podcast listener, John, shout out to you, John if you’re listening to this episode, reached out to me and ultimately arranged it so that I had the opportunity to go teach mindfulness workshop at the company where he works in Toronto in Canada. It was a really neat experience to be able to go out there and to share these ideas and concepts in a setting that pertains to a corporate setting.

Ultimately, my favorite part of the whole thing was just meeting John in general. Meeting him and his family, meeting him in person, and kind of developing that friendship and realizing … We were sitting on the back-patio furniture visiting one of the days after the workshop and it was just fun to think of every single event that has taken place in my life and in his life that led to that moment to be there sitting like we were friends, like we’ve known each other this whole time. It was just a really neat experience and I love moments like that, opportunities like that to be able to interact with somebody. To be able to have, as John would say, to have worlds collide. It’s a really cool experience.

But anyway, during that week in Toronto, it’s always interesting to be able to teach mindfulness to people who sign up for a mindfulness workshop, is one thing. Because everyone who’s there is wanting to learn these concepts. That’s why they’re there. But when you teach it in another setting, like in a corporate setting where it’s presented as maybe one of multiple options during the workshop, you may just sign up because it was the, I don’t know, could have been the least boring of the options presented to you.

Sure enough, during this workshop, there were people who were very fascinated with the topic. And there were others who were in the workshop who were just kind of there probably thinking, “What is all this stuff and what is this? Why does any of this matter to me?” At one point and one of the workshops, I brought this up and I wanted to highlight it here, which is the fact that who is mindfulness for? It’s not for everyone. That’s that’s the simple truth. I share it because I gain a significant amount of joy and contentment from my practice, from mindfulness practice, and others do too. When I share it tonight and I share these concepts, a lot of people benefit from it.

It should go without saying that none of this has ever been preached as, “Hey, you need this. You need mindfulness in your life.” Some people do, but this isn’t something that you can compel on to someone, the practice of being mindful. I like to equate this to my other hobby, because I have two main hobbies or practices. One of them is practicing mindfulness, and that’s why I have a podcast, I’ve written some books, and I’m involved in this space because I enjoy it. The other one is paragliding. I spend a lot of time flying and paramotoring. I recognize that it’s not for everyone.

If someone were to say, “Hey, this hobby you have that brings you so much joy, I guess I need to get into it.” I would say, “Well, are you afraid of heights?” And if they say yes, then I’d say, “Well, then don’t do it. Why on earth would you get into this hobby, if you’re afraid of heights?” Because I understand that it’s not for everyone. I think mindfulness is the same. It’s not for everyone. It can absolutely benefit everyone who practices it. Anyone who practices can benefit from it. But that doesn’t mean that everyone has to do it. In the same way that I would say, if you’re afraid of heights, why would you ever get into paragliding? I would say if you’re not interested in being more mindful in your life, why on earth would you want to get into this practice?

It should never be forced onto others. One of the books that I really enjoyed on Buddhism by Gyomay Kubose, he wisely said, “Never preach Buddhism.” This was emphasized through his son who taught the lay ministry program that I did. The two-year program. But he always emphasized that. Don’t preach Buddhism. This is why, because it’s not for everyone. Why would you preach something, when … What is there that is truly applicable to anyone? I would say never preach mindfulness. Maybe never preach anything. I never preached paragliding to anyone.

I share the joy that I get in the sport, and sometimes people will say, “Hey, I want to learn to do that. How can I learn? Where do I go?” And they get into the sport and then later they’re like, “Man, this is the coolest hobby I’ve ever had. Thanks for getting me into the sport.” I’ve had the same thing happened with mindfulness where I’m sharing what I enjoy and what’s worked for me, and others will benefit from it and they’ll email me and say, “I’m so glad that you that you started this podcast or that you shared this or that topic, because it’s had such a profound impact on me in my life and the circumstances that I’m in.” I think that’s wonderful and it’s great. But that doesn’t mean it’s for everyone.

Just keep that in mind. I’m not preaching about patience in this podcast episode, even though the topic is on patience. Again, this podcast episode is not implying that you need to be more patient with yourself, with others and with life in general. No, instead, this topic is it’s as all the topics, it’s meant to be an invitation to be more aware about ourselves and to understand ourselves a little bit more. With that caveat, with that intro, let’s jump into the topic.

First, I want to talk a little bit about patience. What is it? If you Google it, according to Google, patience has the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset. I think that starts to define it. But to really understand that, I think we need to do a little bit more digging, a little more research. So, other definitions. The Merriam Webster dictionary’s definition is remaining steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity. I think that’s getting closer to the mark with how I understand patience in the context of mindfulness practice. Because couldn’t that be the very definition of meditation as a practice? Could it be that meditation is the heart of practicing patience? It’s remaining steadfast despite difficulty.

Now think about sitting meditation. You sit there and no matter how good you are or how long you’ve been practicing it, if you sit there long enough, at some point, you experience difficulty. Your legs start to fall asleep, your lower back starts to hurt, you may start thinking about all the millions of other things that you could be doing instead of sitting here. All these things start to arise. This is the practice of well, now that these feelings or thoughts and emotions are rising, what do I do with that? Do I remain steadfast in my intent to sit with it? Or, do I succumb to the discomfort and say, “Well, I don’t want to be uncomfortable, so I’m going to get up and be done with this.”

In some ways, I think that’s a huge benefit of practicing sitting meditation. Although I will elaborate on that a little bit more further in the discussion here. The Oxford Dictionary defines patience as being able to accept or tolerate delays, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious. I actually like that one even more. If you think of patience as the art of not being angry when difficulties arise, I don’t think that quite hits it. Because you can be angry and sit there and not act on that anger. And are you really being patient or are you just putting on the image of being patient? This Oxford dictionary’s definition of it makes it a little bit more difficult, because it’s saying without becoming annoyed or anxious. Can I sit here with this emotion or with this difficulty in my life, and not be annoyed? I can’t fake that right? If I’m annoyed, I’m annoyed. Sure, I may not act on the feeling of being annoyed, but I cannot fake whether or not I’m annoyed. That gives us something to work with.

I want to share a thought that comes from Pema Chödrön from the book that I’ve been sharing little quotes from on our Facebook page. This is one that I shared earlier this week, where she says patience is the antidote. And quoting, Pema says, “Patience is the antidote to anger, a way to learn to love and care for whatever we meet on the path. By patience, we do not mean endurance, as in grin and bear it. In any situation, instead of reacting suddenly, we could chew it, smell it, look at it, and open ourselves to seeing what’s there. The opposite of patience is aggression, the desire to jump and move to push against our lives to try to fill up space. The journey of patience involves relaxing, opening to what’s happening, experiencing a sense of wonder.”

With that in mind, some of the additional thoughts I would add to that quote, I love that she clarifies that patience does not mean endurance or grin and bear it. I think that endurance stuff, it’s often a form of habitual reactivity. And we need to be patient with the discomfort that arises from the difficulties that we deal with in life and with ourselves and with other people. So, I know for me in my own personal life, I have the tendency to avoid conflict. I’ve never enjoyed it, I’ve always been uncomfortable with conflict. So, it’s easy for me to just kind of sit it out, instead of confronting a situation that may cause confrontation to arise. I find myself in during or grinning and bearing it often when I’m dealing with a difficult experience, simply because I’m not patient enough to skillfully work with whatever discomfort arises in me regarding that situation.

I think this can be common with our interactions with people. Relationships that we’re in with partners and spouses or siblings or the neighbor. Something needs to be brought up, but I won’t bring it up because I’m not comfortable with how confrontation makes me feel. So, my habitual reactivity is non-confrontation. So, we don’t want to grin and bear it when it comes to the important things in life. Instead, we can patiently work with these difficulties. Understanding them, opening up to the feelings that arise in the situation. Ultimately, this allows us to be more skillful with how we deal with it.

This way of thinking for me in my own life was a radical shift when I realized that my form of habitual reactivity is often to not react. That is my reaction, is to not react. I’m not going to say this, I’m not going to bring that up because I don’t want this to make you uncomfortable and things of that nature. I always thought, “Well, that’s just because I’m patient,” but it’s not. It was actually the opposite. It’s I’m not patient enough to deal with the discomfort that this is going to cause, so my form of habitual reactivity is to not react and now I don’t have to deal with it. That’s not being patient and that’s what is being highlighted in this podcast episode, and in that quote that I just shared by Pema. What if we flip the script and realize patients might not be what I think it is?

Often, the act of grinning and bearing it is indeed the opposite of patience. Patience and difficulties, what if we learned to start moving towards the difficulties with the definition of being steadfast despite the difficulties? I really like that and I kind of want to play off of that for a minute. Because we seem to have this idea that something is wrong with us, something is wrong with other people, something is wrong with life in general. And often with ourselves, it’s that I’m not the right weight, or I’m not the right height, or my skin is not the right complexion, or my personality is not ideal. I don’t have the level of patience or kindness that I should have.

In this way, we’re kind of presented with this weird idea that something’s wrong with us. There’s a version of me that could be better. We think this way about other people too, right? And we think about life this way. Life is not right, because it’s too noisy, or it’s too quiet, or it’s too hot, or too cold, or too windy, or not windy enough. We’re always comparing the way things are to the way we think things should be. So, we find ourselves continually trying to reach the right way. The right configuration for life or for ourselves or for others. That configuration is the one that will finally make everything better or at least more bearable.

What we’re learning through Buddhist practices, through Buddhist teachings, and through mindfulness, is that we’re learning about minimizing this constant comparison of how things are in the present moment, to how we think things should be. We do that by just learning to sit with how things are. I think the habitual tendency is to make these comparisons. Again, not that it’s wrong to make these comparisons. I want to emphasize this. I’ve mentioned it before in previous podcast episodes, but our ability to compare how things are and to aspire for things to be better is what’s brought about incredible things in life. Technology and inventions and all these things arise because of this. So, it’s not that this is a bad thing.

But I think it’s important to understand that this is a natural tendency that we have at least as humans, which brings about a lot of progress. But we’re also going to pay the price for it. Because it makes it so that in some ways, we’re really never content. We’re never happy because we’re always comparing. Again, this mindfulness practice is not about eliminating that, it’s not about eliminating the thought of how things could be. It’s more about focusing and practicing increasing the awareness of how things are right now in the present moment without the judgment and without the comparison. This implies that it’s more of an invitation to move towards the difficulties that we face in our lives rather than running away from them, because we’re trying to understand these things more.

This takes a lot of practice. That’s why it’s called mindfulness practice. To sit with the discomfort of running towards the difficulties and to remain steadfast despite the difficulty. I think it’s important to understand that this path that we’re on, practicing mindfulness, is the goal of mindfulness. The path itself is the goal. There’s no final destination where, “Oh, I finally conquered it and I’m done. I did it. I’m mindful now, from now on and forever.” It doesn’t work that way. We’re always on the path, and the path is always changing. Again, this is why I use the analogy of Tetris so often. You never finish the game of Tetris. It’s not like you can rest between levels and say, “Okay, I did it. I completed this level and I am moving on to the next one.” The game doesn’t work that way. The nature of the game is it goes on and on and on and on.

And so it is with our lives, isn’t it? Our lives, the lives of others, life in general, it’s about learning to keep going and seeing that the journey itself is the goal. I think when we start to see life this way, we begin to understand that everything that occurs along the path, along that journey is an invitation for us. It’s an invitation to wake up, to learn, to grow, to change, to feel alive. And our difficult emotions and our conflicting thoughts and our painful experiences in life, well, those are all part of the journey too. They’re all part of the Tetris pieces.

So, what can this all start to look like? I want to break it up into three key areas like the title of the podcast says. First, patience towards others. What can that look like? I want you to try to visualize this in your own life. What would it look like? What would it feel like to truly accept others without becoming annoyed about how they are now. like comparing them to how we think they should be? What would that feel like? I understand as a parent, that my kids now are not who they were a year or two ago. And they’re certainly not who they will be when they are teenagers or adults. I try to see them in this light, this understanding that I’m always given them the flexibility of who they’re going to be, knowing that they’re constantly changing. And the version of them that I have in my life right now is impermanent.

I try to do this with adults too. I try to understand that the adults in my life, my friends and siblings and parents and co-workers and everyone that I interact with, they’re not the same people that they’re going to be a year from now or two years from now. Sure, some of them may change minimally, some of them may change drastically going through completely life altering experiences, changes of political views, changes in their religious views. There can be some pretty drastic changes and people’s lives, and where it’s very clear to see this is not the same person as before.

I find it helpful to view people in that present moment with that lens of permission to change, because I understand that they’re always changing and I don’t know how they’re going to change or how much they’ll change, but I know that change is inevitable. I detect often in myself the feeling of wanting others to understand me and to validate my way of understanding the world, my world views. I recognize that that’s an impossible task. It simply cannot be achieved. It’s helpful for me to know that, because I try to remind myself to be patient with how others perceive me because they’re perceiving me through their unfiltered lens. And that’s helpful to know.

Patience toward life in general. Again, what would it look like or feel like to be able to accept life just as it is? To really look around and start to see the Tetris pieces that pop up and recognize the discomfort that certain pieces bring to our lives, and then to be able to remain steadfast despite the difficult emotions that arise with some of those pieces. Again, that’s the very definition of patience. When it comes to life, remember, just like Pema said, we don’t have to grin and bear it. We can try to be skillful to do what we can, where we can, when we can to make things better for ourselves and for others, but it takes a lot of practice and it takes skill to do that.

To me, again, this is the invitation that’s constantly being echoed here to become a better whatever you already are. I think it’s helpful to remember in life, difficulties arise. It’s a part of the journey and we can try to learn to handle these difficulties with as much skill as possible, while at the same time knowing that sometimes life is going to feel like it’s not okay. Sometimes it takes patience to recognize that it’s okay to feel that it’s not okay. We don’t practice this with the intent of, “Oh, I’m going to accept everything as it is and nothing will ever bother me.” That’s not how it works. The very nature of reality as things change, and when they do, these difficulties arise, and when they do, I don’t like how it feels to experience it and I can stop there. I can just sit with the discomfort, which to me is the very practice of patience rather than getting caught up in the feeling that I have about the discomfort.

This is an unpleasant feeling and I don’t like that I’m feeling what I’m feeling. I can work with that. But if I’m just feeling the discomfort of the situation, I may not be able to deal with that. That’s just how I feel. And that’s what we’re practicing with mindfulness. You’re learning to sit with whatever arises, whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant, whether it feels good or doesn’t feel good. You just sit with it and you observe it. In that way, you’re kind of learning to be friend yourself. To me, that’s where the patience toward yourself fits in. This is the core of what a lot of these practices and teachings are about, developing a sense of patience towards the person that I think often we’re least patient with, and that’s ourselves.

What would it feel like to be able to truly accept ourselves just the way that we are without getting caught up in the moral judgment that the present version of me is somehow superior or inferior to a past or a future version of myself? The thought that perhaps a more physically fit version of me in the future, somehow that’s a better me than this me, or a more mindful me. If I practice this mindfulness long enough and hard enough, I’ll one day be mindful, and that me is actually better than this me right now that still gets angry and loses my temper. Again, this is an act of aggression that we inflict on ourselves towards ourselves.

I think it’s helpful at this point to remember acceptance is not the same thing as resignation. This is not about resigning to the fact that oh this is how I am and I’ll never be fit or I guess I’ll never be kind enough or mindfulness or smart enough or something like that. This is about remembering that we’re constantly changing, and this allows us to feel the invitation that we can try to become more introspective and understand that about ourselves, and to more skillfully navigate that constant change that we’re undergoing. It’s like we’re this constant continual process of becoming, but we never actually become something. We do, but in the context of impermanence, it happens now and then it’s gone again, because you’re always becoming something new, something different. And each version of ourselves changes as we learn more, as we experience certain events in life, as we age, in a physical way.

I think age is a great way to visualize this, because you never finish. As long as you’re alive, you’re aging. That’s the whole point. But you can just pause it and be like, “Okay, I’ve aged to this point and this is where I want to stay.” And yet we act that way. We wish we could stay in our prime forever, but we can’t. You get there and then you keep going. And then you get there to where that is, and you keep going, and you keep going. Just like Tetris, it goes and goes and goes until the game is over. I think it’s helpful to keep that in mind that we’re always changing, always learning, adapting to the game of Tetris with each new piece that shows up. That is the practice. That’s the practice of understanding that the journey of change is the goal. We never reach the final configuration where we say, “Okay, we’re done, I don’t need a change anymore.” That’s the practice. Adapting, and changing, and learning and unlearning, and going with the flow. Going with the flow of the game.

That’s the concept I wanted to share. I hope you’ll take some time to really think about these concepts, to ask yourself, “Am I patient with others? Am I patient with life?” Perhaps the most important one of all, “Am I patient with myself? Could I be more patient with myself and how would I practice that?” I think patience with ourselves is a great place to start with a practice. The more patient I am with myself and with the thoughts and feelings and emotions that arise in me, the more skilled I become with practicing patience towards others and towards life. And that’s mindfulness practice, is exactly that. It’s the practice that you practice, practice, practice, but you never get there. Because the practice itself is the goal.

So, keep that in mind as for those of you who do practice mindfulness, for those of you who do like to sit in meditation. Meditating and sitting there is that practice. It’s not like, “I’m going to sit here until I can finally say, I am super comfortable meditating.” I don’t know. If you’re like me, and you’ve been practicing, I’ve been practicing for 10 years. It’s not like suddenly, oh, this is easy. I could just sit here. It’s the same battle every time. I’m sitting here, and I don’t want to sit here. I’m feeling this, and I don’t want to feel this. I want to feel that. But what I’m becoming better at is just sitting with that. Sitting with that feeling of not wanting to feel what I’m feeling. What does that like? What happens when you befriend whatever arises?

Oftentimes, what arises is discomfort or some form of difficulty, and you allow to be there. The same way that you would, if it was something pleasant that arises. A pleasant thought or a pleasant feeling, you let it sit there too.

That’s what I wanted to share, and that’s what I have for this topic. If you want to learn more about general Buddhist concepts and teachings, you can always check out my book No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners: 60 Questions and answers around Buddhist history and concepts and teachings and practices. You can learn about that by visiting everydaybuddhism.com.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. You can write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, or you can also visit our online community, secularbuddhism.com/community to find the Facebook group and join us there. We often continue the discussion around these episodes or just other discussions in general.

And as always, if you’d like to make a donation to support the work that I’m doing with the podcast, feel free to visit secularbuddhism.com, click the Donate button. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for your time and for listening. And, until next time.

75 – Everyday Buddhism Podcast Interview

This podcast episode is the audio of a recent interview I did on the Everyday Buddhism podcast with my friend Wendy. If you enjoy this podcast episode, check out the Everyday Buddhism Podcast on your favorite podcasting app or visit everyday-buddhism.com

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74 – Goals, Relationships, and Non-Attachment

If we’re practicing non-attachment, how should we approach things like goals and relationships? Should we avoid such things? I don’t think so. Goals are great and so are relationships. So how should we approach goals and relationships in the context of non-attachment? These are the ideas I will explore in this podcast episode.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 74. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today, I’m talking about goals, relationships, and non-attachment. Quick reminder, the Dalai Lama once said, “Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are.” Before I jump into this podcast episode, I want to give you a couple of quick updates. First of all, I’m excited to announce that the podcast has now officially had over 2 million downloads, which is an exciting milestone, considering that this started out as a fun experiment. The podcast is being downloaded all over the world, and that’s exciting for me to see and to know that the topics and the ideas that are shared through the podcast are being well received and benefiting people all over the place. So that’s exciting for me, and I wanted to share that with you and to say thank you to all of you who listen to the podcast, especially those who listen regularly. I know many of you have been listening from the very beginning and have followed along with all of the episodes. It’s just been a really exciting journey, and I want to thank each of you for being a part of that journey with me. So that’s the first update.

The second update is concerning upcoming workshops. One of the goals that I have for later this year, the first goal is to make my workshop, the workshop that I’ve been putting on in person for several years now, the Introduction to Mindfulness … It’s kind of a Buddhism 101 or a Mindfulness 101 type workshop. The only way I’ve been able to do that in the past is to go somewhere and to host this in person, and I’ve had the goal and the plan for quite some time now to be able to host an online version of it that would be available for free and available for any time that you could take it at your own pace and on your own time. That, to me, is really important. It’s like a workshop version of the book. It’s why I put that book out there, because I feel like understanding the foundational concepts and teachings of Buddhism is really important as a first step to being able to understand a lot of the topics that are discussed in the podcast. It all starts with understanding the background of this way of thinking first. So that is a workshop that you can expect to see at some point, hopefully not too distant in the future.

Along with that, this is the exciting part, I’ve wanted to make that workshop available so that I could spend time doing other, more specialized workshops and more specialized topics. The first in this series that I’ve been experimenting with is my idea is to partner with someone who’s an expert in a specific field or topic and then co-present mindfulness in that field. For example, the mindful eating workshop that I’ve been doing with Paige Smathers. She’s an expert in nutrition. Partnering with her and talking about mindful eating has been really fun, and that’s a workshop that was really well received. We’re doing another one, and that’s been exciting. I hope to eventually have an online version of that. The other topics I want to do are mindful parenting. I have an exciting possible partnership in the works from someone who reached out that is an expert in parenting. I think that would be really fun, to have a series of topics, whether it be on the podcast or workshops—I’d like to make these more workshop-based—on mindful parenting, introducing these concepts of mindfulness and the latest information on best parenting.

Then, another one on relationships. So those are the three that I have in the works right now—mindful eating, mindful parenting, and eventually mindful relationships. Again, partnerships between myself and someone who’s an expert in that specific field, but presenting these ideas through the lens of mindfulness, through the lens of Buddhist thinking. So you can look forward to that and look for more information on that. I’ll be posting it. I’ll be mentioning it on the podcast when those things come to fruition.

So now, let’s just jump into this topic real quick—goals, relationships, and non-attachment. I want to bring this up, because it does seem to be a recurring topic. I get emails all the time about advice or questions about how can mindfulness help me with relationships, for example? How should I feel about the attraction I have to my partner or my spouse? Is it wrong to feel that sense of attraction or the desire to be with this person? Should I let go or be unattached to them? Questions of that nature. Same with goals. It comes up with goals all the time. Should I not have goals? Does going with the flow mean you don’t set any goals, and you’re just figuring out the game of life as Tetris as it comes? Is it pointless to have goals? I know that I’ve clarified this in a few different podcast episodes, specifically the one on non-attachment, but I do want to talk about this one more time, specifically in the context of goals and relationships, with a little bit of insight into my own approach and my own life stories and how this has been relevant for me, this concept of non-attachment, when applied to goals and relationships.

So that is the topic for today’s podcast episode. I want to start out talking about goals. The idea with goals, goals are great. Goals give us a sense of direction. There’s nothing wrong with goals. The idea of non-attachment, again, as I’ve said various times, is not detachment. It’s not detachment from things. Non-attachment is less about letting go of something and more about letting go of the death grip. You can still have a grip on things. Rather than thinking of it as non-attachment, just reframe it and think of this as the wisdom of adaptability. All of this makes sense in the context of things being impermanent. When you think about it from that angle, if things are impermanent, what does that say about goals? It just means adapt with the goals when the time comes to adapt. Now, you see this in business all the time. Companies that are not capable of adapting go under. You can think of Kodak with film. Think of Blockbuster. Think of, I guess most recently, Toys ‘R’ Us. In every industry, you have change. Change is the constant, right? The ones that can adapt survive. The ones that don’t adapt don’t survive. They eventually go under.

The idea of goals is absolutely have goals if you want to have goals. Just know that you’ve got to be ready to make the changes necessary to those goals when Tetris throws you a new shape. For example, in my own life, one of my goals early on in a career, for example, is I wanted to be a helicopter pilot. That’s always been a childhood dream of mine. Now, it’s still a possibility, although very unlikely, because it’s not high on my priority list anymore, but at one point, it was, to the point where I signed up for flight school. I paid for flight school, and I was well under way with this career path and this goal to be a helicopter pilot. Specifically, my goal was to be a Life Flight pilot or a Coast Guard rescue pilot. I don’t know why. That’s always been a dream of mine. So I found myself in this situation about six or seven months into this process of being in flight school. I had already finished my … The first stage is getting your private pilot’s license. Then, you have to go on to get an instrument rating, which allows you to fly in bad weather conditions or, I guess more appropriately, without seeing. If you want to fly without seeing, you need an instrument rating, so flying at night or flying in storms.

Then, after that, you need to get your commercial. The order can switch around, but you need your commercial license next to be able to work as a pilot. So those are the three requirements, but there’s a typical fourth requirement, which is to become a flight instructor. Your first job is usually going to be to be a flight instructor, and that’s where you build up your hours. You can’t teach if you’re not a flight instructor. Furthermore, if you want to be competitive in the space of being a flight instructor, you should be an instrument-rated flight instructor, so that’s a fifth rating. Now we’ve got private, commercial, instrument, flight instructor, and then instrument flight instructor. Those were five different ratings that I needed to achieve just to get started in the career to build up my hours towards this goal that I had. Each of those certifications, for me, was going to be a milestone in my career path.

I achieved the first one. I got my private license. Around that time, the flight school I was going to went bankrupt. Literally overnight. It surprised everyone. Some of you may have heard about it. It was on the news, because it was a nationwide chain of flight schools that just went under overnight. To get into the flight school, you have to pre-pay it, so I had already paid for my requirements, all five of these things that I was going to do, and the school went under. I had no way to do anything about it. They went bankrupt. The money, the school had it, but the bank funded it, so it’s like a student loan through a bank, like a private student loan. I was out, but the bank was also out. They weren’t going to allow us to just not repay that loan, because they felt that they had been victims of this circumstance, as well. It became a long, drawn-out battle. In the end, this is a loan that I’m still paying. I’ll be paying it for many, many more years.

At this point, this is life happening. There’s the shape that shows up. This is Tetris that’s happening. I had to decide what is the more skillful thing. Do I adapt the goal, or do I persist with the goal? Now, at first, I said, “I am going to do this, or I’m going to die trying,” because I was determined to be a helicopter pilot, and that’s exactly what I did. I moved to a new state, enrolled in a new school, took out a new loan. So here I was, going for round two, paying for this program all over again thinking that maybe the legal system would side with me and forgive the student loans for the first school because it went bankrupt. I took that gamble, I took that risk, and I started over again with a new flight school. I finished my instrument rating and my commercial requirements. I was thinking, okay, there’s three out of the five, but around that point, I had run out of money. I had already paid for this program once. That’s a lot of money. The second time, I borrowed enough to get through each milestone one at a time, but I realized I was in this very serious predicament at that point.

I couldn’t keep borrowing, because I still owed so much. By then, I think a year had gone by, and I realized there was going to be no forgiveness of the first loan, the student loan. So I was stuck, and I had to decide how do I do this. I still needed my instructor rating and my instrument instructor rating. I assessed the situation, and I realized all those pilots, especially the flight instructors from the school that went bankrupt, they were all out there looking for the same jobs I was going to try to get. It was horrible timing in the industry to try to be a helicopter pilot, especially an instructor. They had more hours. Some of them had experience already teaching at the school that had gone under. I think it was 500 locations nationwide. I decided at that point it was unhealthy for me to persist with that goal and it was time to, for this wisdom of adaptability. Now I wish I would have adapted a little earlier. I wish I would have decided soon as the first one went under, I’m going to cool down a bit and just think about this and see what happens. Give it some time and then decide.

But I didn’t. I was stubborn that I was going to go forward and I dug my hole even deeper because now I owed the first school, plus all the student loans I took out for the second school. So long story short, in my situation, I eventually had to adapt the goal. The goal is no longer to be a helicopter pilot. It was, you know, it morphed into things like get a second job so I can one day pay off this loan. That became a new goal. And all of these situations were changing and I was being forced to adapt with them. Now many years have passed since this all went down and I’ve since gotten back into flying. Some of you know, that I’m a paraglider pilot and a para-motor pilot, which is a much more affordable way to satisfy the itch of flying if anyone of you are thinking about that.

So my goal has adapted and here I find myself at this stage in life with different goals. I have goals to do with work and finances and career. You know, my goal is to have a form of income that is stable and a form of passive income. That’s what I’m accomplishing with the books that I’ve written and these workshops that I’m going to be producing. Not free ones obviously, but the more specialized ones. I’ve been doing mindfulness retreats with corporations, visiting the workplace and teaching meditation and mindfulness there that, that is another form of income that I’m bringing in. So I have that, these goals that center around finances. I have goals that center around my hobbies. One of the more recent ones, it’s a 12-month goal, but my goal is to become a certified flight instructor, to be able to teach people to para-motor and to paraglide.

And that has several milestones between now and then, certain certificates that I need to achieve, certain amount of hours, certain styles of flight that I need to learn to do. So what I’m trying to get at with all of this is I have a lot of goals and I’m always assessing my goals and I’m always deciding, is this right or does it need to change?

But the difference now versus earlier stages of my life is I view my goals with a sense of fluidity with this, what I like to say, the wisdom of adaptability. So I’m always asking myself, is this, is this the most skillful goal to have right now? And if it is, I’m still working really hard towards it, but when it’s not, because the combination of shapes in the game of Tetris life has changed, I change with it and I say, “Oh, maybe that’s not the best goal. Oh, but this other thing could be a goal.” Boom, the goal switches. But I always have goals.

So what I’m trying to say is I don’t think that we need to approach the idea of goals and non-attachment and say, oh, I shouldn’t have any goals. I’m not attached to my goals. What we should be doing is saying, “I do have goals, but I understand that life changes.” So I’m always evaluating my goals. That to me is the healthy way. That’s the non-attached way of having goals. I’m not attached to them permanently. It’s only in the context of the present moment and present circumstances that these goals make sense and the moment that that changes, if, and when that changes, how flexible am I to adapt with them to, to not necessarily to eliminate the goal, but maybe it’s just a matter of tweaking the goal, change this, add that eliminate this part of the goal, you know, we can adjust our goals in the same way that life is constantly adjusting.

And that would be a non-attached way of having goals. Now, again, if you use business as an example, I think that’s the perfect example. Businesses that adapt to the trends and the technology that evolve within their industry, they survive. Now, it would be silly of us to say, oh, these companies that are thriving, they don’t have any goals, they’re going with the flow. That’s not it. They absolutely have goals and milestones and things they’re trying to achieve, but they’re adapting with life as life changes with the industry as the industry changes.

So that’s what I have to say about goals and non-attachment. Absolutely have goals. It’s fine to have goals, just don’t be attached to them permanently. Be attached to them in the context of right here, right now in this configuration of the game of Tetris. But as soon as a new shape shows up, I’m going to ask myself, “Is this still the skillful way to approach this goal?” If it is, keep going. If it’s not, change it, change the goal, adapt the goal. Sometimes you may even have to discard the goal entirely and write down a whole new goal, give it a new direction.

Okay? So the next aspect of this is with relationships. And I want to start this one out with a quote that’s often attributed to the Buddha. And I think this is … it’s funny because a 90% of the goals are of the quotes you’re going to hear out there about anything attributed to the Buddha. They’re usually not real quotes from the Buddha, and this is definitely one of those. So some of you may have come across this one, and there are variations of it, but this is the one I came across: when you like a flower, you just pluck it. But when you love a flower, you water it daily. One who understands this and understands life.

And that’s a quote that circulates on the Internet that’s attributed to the Buddha. So first, let me be clear, that is not a Buddha quote. I don’t know. I don’t know who said it. It’s a great sentiment. I don’t know who said it, but it definitely was not the Buddha. So with relationships, think about that when, when you, the difference between liking a flower and plucking and putting it there on your table versus loving a flower and saying, I want this thing to thrive. I’ll leave it planted and water it. Those are two very different approaches. And I think it’s a good example to how we view our relationships, is the relationship set up in a way to please me? That’s the liking part of it.

Or if I love this relationship and this person, am I doing what benefits the, you know, the partner or the spouse or whoever their relationship is with? Those are two different approaches. Again, I want to correlate this to impermanence because I  believe that non-attachment or at least the idea of non-attachment, it arises naturally when we have proper perspective and the ever-changing nature of reality or impermanence. When we see that, when we see reality as constantly changing, instead of focusing on the goal of saying I need to not be attached or to practice non-attachment. Don’t think of it that way. Instead, think my goal is to try to see impermanence more clearly, to see impermanence in everything. When I see impermanence in the nature of my relationships, non-attachment in my relationship will arise naturally.

There’s a zen story. I believe it’s a zen story or a Zen teaching. Where, we’re given the task of trying to see someone. I think in this teaching specifically, it’s referring to a way of combating lust. So if you, if you feel this, a lustful attraction to someone to try to imagine that person in various configurations like being old, specifically being old, wrinkly skin, withered, maybe in a wheelchair or using a walker or sick, this person is now sick and they’re bedridden.

And the idea here is try to see them in other circumstances, and notice what that does to that attraction. Are you simply attracted to them because of how they look right now? You know, what happens when they look different, what happens when the configuration changes, when the Tetris shapes evolve, what happens to that relationship?

And the invitation here, I believe is that when you’re capable of seeing the other pieces, potential pieces of the puzzle, perhaps you could say the inevitable pieces of that puzzle and how it’s going to change, you can see a little bit more clearly your attraction to that person.

So seeing the changing circumstances of your goals and dreams and relationships I think can be a really helpful practice. You can play with different scenarios and see what happens to the relationship that you have with that person. For example, with a spouse or a partner or someone you’re attracted to, play this game and imagine, okay, what if they were suddenly in a wheelchair or what if they were … they’ve gotten old and they can’t go to the bathroom on their own and I’ve got to bathe them, or you know, all these things, a lot of these things are inevitable situations in a relationship that will eventually happen.

So the idea with this is you start to place yourself in these other circumstances and say,  is this still the person that I would want to be within all these other configurations of potential relationships? Because if you find that you’re not interested in any other scenario other than this one, where this is this attractive person that I want to be with right now, then that gives you the ability to pause and think, “Hmm, what’s wrong with this picture? This is dangerous.” Because the inevitable fact of life is that things will change and when they do, then what?

So with relationships, the idea of non-attachment, the way I see this in my own relationship is I try to picture different scenarios, you know, what would our life be like if we were going through bankruptcy, for example.

If we were really struggling financially, I try to picture myself in these situations. What would that dynamic be like? What would the dynamic be like if I had to care much more for her physically because let’s say she, again, using the example of what if she became paralyzed or she was confined to a wheelchair or things of that nature? I play these scenarios out in my head and I try to … I do the same backwards thinking, “Huh? What would happen if that happened to me?” You know? At what point would I feel like, “Oh no, I’m, I’m a hindrance to her.” Is that going to affect the way that I perceive that she perceives the relationship?

And again, there’s no right or wrong answer here. You’re just exploring scenarios and you want to do that because that’s the guarantee in life, right? Is that whatever scenario you’ve got played out, well, hold it for a minute because in a minute it changes, and you’re going to have a new scenario.

I try to imagine the scenario, the dynamic in our relationship right now as it evolves or revolves around our three young children. Well, what about when the three are teenagers? And one of them’s rebellious and has a lot of conflict with one of us, maybe her or me. What’s that going to do to our relationship or what about when the three are grown up and they’re out of the house? What’s our dynamic going to be like then? I try to play all these scenarios in my head because I want to have a healthy perspective of reality, and the reality is I don’t know which of those scenarios it’ll be. But it could be any of them, and what I have found for me is it develops this sense of comfort with the uncertainty. I don’t know what it’s going to be, but here’s what I do know. This is what it is. And I feel much more content, a sense of contentment with how it is because this is how it is. At least I know this is how it is. I don’t know how it’ll be. It could be much better in the future. It could be much worse in the future. The point is I don’t know, but I do know how it is right now, and I’m happy with how it is right now. That’s what it does for me when I think of it like that in that setting.

Again, nonattachment isn’t saying hey, you shouldn’t have relationships. Quit falling in love. Give up everyone. Don’t have friends. It’s not saying any of that. It’s saying cherish everything the way that it is right now. Maybe cherish isn’t the right word. Find contentment with how things are because how things are, there’s certainty in that right now. I know that’s how things are. They could be better. They could be worse. But right now, it’s like this. And that’s an expression I’ve used before in other podcast episodes. Right now, it’s like this. Whatever this is, it doesn’t matter, the good, the bad, the pleasant or unpleasant aspect of that. That’s not the point. The point is this is what it is. And that’s what I have to work with.

So I would say in terms of relationships and this concept of nonattachment, think of that and don’t be attached to how I think the relationship should be. Instead, focus on how the relationship is. Another small example of this in my own dynamic, in my own relationship, I’ve often heard this I guess a myth almost, that in relationships, the more you have in common, the more healthy the relationship is going to be, and I have found in my own experience that’s simply not true to a certain degree. My wife and I have different political views. We have different religious views. We have different philosophical views of the world. On a lot of these bigger topics that some would say are destined to be doomed if there’s no compatibility, we somehow have broken that mold, and it’s working somehow. That’s not to say it could be better if things were more compatible. It could be worse. I don’t know. The point is I don’t know.

I find a tremendous sense of contentment with how things are right now. That for me has been important in my relationship. I feel like that’s the nonttached aspect of my approach to our relationship. I don’t feel the need to change her. If she views it this way or that way, and I don’t understand how someone could view it this way or that way, that’s fine. That’s just how she views it. And I don’t have a sense of attachment to this would all be better if she just viewed it all the way I view. That to me is a form of attachment in a relationship, wanting the other to be how I think the other should be. That is a sense of attachment. Nonattachment, again, like the flower, right? I don’t need to pluck that flower and put it over here in this vase because the vase is where the flower needs to be. It’s saying the flower is where the flower is. If it’s already in the vase, that’s where it is. How do I make it better? If it’s planted, that’s where it is. How do I keep it healthy? The point is how do I work with it in that nonattached way?

So I don’t know. Hopefully some of those ideas make sense to you if you’re listening to this and wondering about this concept of nonattachment as it pertains specifically to goals and relationships. So just summarizing, have goals, have relationships. Go with the flow of change. And remember this: Stagnation or permanence, it’s not healthy in goals. You can ask Kodak and Blockbuster and I don’t know. You can probably think of a ton of businesses of the past that had a sense of attachment to their thing, their product, their goal. And they weren’t able to shift and change with reality, change with the industry, and they’re gone.

It’s the same with relationships. Stagnation or permanence in relationships is a guaranteed killer of the relationship because relationships are dynamic. The person that you’re with changes. You change. And if you can’t learn to adapt and continually grow the relationship, there’s going to be stagnation and death in the relationship. The relationship will not thrive. It can’t thrive. It’s extremely unhealthy to think of it that way. One of the most common manifestations of this that I hear in my day to day interactions with people is this concept of you’re not the person that I married or so and so is not the person that I married, and that’s why our relationship is struggling. I want to say, I want to remind them of course they’re not. It cannot be, that person cannot be the same person that you married. From dating to marriage and then the entire process after, not just marriage, any relationship. You don’t have to be married to see this. If the person that you’re with is not the person that they were before, and that’s because the nature of reality is constant change.

So think of this. Impermanence makes relationships beautiful, but it also means they’re changing, they’re evolving. So you need to learn to go with the flow. So the nonattached teaching applied to relationships isn’t saying don’t have relationships. It’s saying let those relationships evolve and grow and flow and picture the various stages. What will our relationship be like in five years, in 10 years, in 20 years? Picture that. Picture the various stages. What will it be like when this changes? What will it be like if that shifts? If this happens or that happens. I think that can be a really healthy way of viewing your relationships.

I recently experienced this with my kids. Last week, we were on vacation, and we were taking surf lessons down in Mexico. My kids are still young, so they’re all signed up and doing whatever we’re doing. Everything that we were signing up to do they were doing with us. I saw other couples with their kids, some of which were teenagers. We were joking at dinner with them just saying I haven’t seen my teenager this whole trip because they were already off doing their own thing. So again, that’s something that I do in those moments. I imagine what will that be like when I’m at that stage and my kids don’t want to come to surf lessons with me. They want to do whatever they’re going to want to do. There’s a tinge of sadness and then there’s a tinge of cherishing well, but right now, they are here. They’re doing this with me. Even though the young one, the smallest one, she’s here digging sand castles and I’m taking care of her so I can’t go surfing with the other one. It’s like but then I just smile and think that this is how it is right now, and it won’t always be like this, and I can find much more contentment in that present moment.

So I try to see the dynamic change that’s happening at any given moment with the relationships that I have with my kids at the stage that they’re at now, how that dynamic is going to change when they’re at a different stage, when I’m at a different stage or when circumstances change it. So that’s the message I wanted to share. Goals, relationships and nonattachment. Rather than thinking of it as nonattachment, my invitation to you is think of it as seeing constant change as the nature of reality because nonattachment is what arises naturally through that proper perspective that life is always changing, I’m always changing, the person that I’m with is always changing. When I really see that and understand that, then nonattachment I think feels natural. It doesn’t feel forced, like oh no, I shouldn’t be attached. It becomes the natural way for your relationship with your goals and with people and with life. It’s naturally going to be a nonattached approach because that’s what makes sense when you see and understand constant change.

So I hope that makes sense. I hope that clarifies that topic a little bit more specifically to those who have emailed me recently asking about this topic. If you want to learn more about Buddhism, check out my book, “No Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners.” It has over 60 questions and answers that center around Buddhist history, concepts, teachings and practices. You can learn more about that book by visiting everydaybuddhism.com. As always, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. You can visit secularbuddhism.com/community to learn more about the online community, which is essentially just our Facebook group. And if you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with this podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com. Click the donate button.

That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Again, thank you very much to all of you who have been a part of this journey with me throughout this entire time since I started this podcast and through this recent milestone of 2 million downloads. It’s really an exciting time, and I look forward to seeing where this all goes. That’s all I have. Until next time.

73 – What Moves Us? The 5 Core Social Motives

What Moves Us? Why do we fear rejection? Why are we so motivated to want to belong? In this episode, I will discuss the 5 core social motives of Belonging, Understanding, Control, Enhancing Self, and Trust as presented by Susan Fiske. I will also correlate the idea of the core social motives with some Buddhist concepts and ideas.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 73. I’m your host, Noah Rasheta, and today, I’m talking about What moves us? The Five Core Social Motives. Again, before, I jump into the topic of the podcast, I want to remind you of 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. This has always been a key message that I try to reinforce throughout the podcast and in my general approach to teaching Buddhist concepts.

A little bit about this topic. What moves us? The idea for this podcast episode started with an e-mail I received from a podcast listener, and I receive e-mails regularly with ideas for podcast episodes. This specific listener asked for a podcast episode addressing the topic of rejection. With a little bit of context and understanding a little bit about the idea of rejection, I thought, “You know, that’s a really powerful topic,” because to some degree, all of us fear rejection. We all know what it feels like to not be the one picked to be on the team or to not have the approval of parents or siblings or friends. To some degree, everyone has experienced some form of rejection. I think all of us fear it. There’s a reason why. I think we’re hardwired as social creatures to really fear rejection. When I saw this e-mail and I was thinking about the topic of rejection, I thought, “Well, it might be interesting to combine a little bit of Buddhism with what psychology teaches.” At least some of the findings and psychology and social behavior about what moves us, what motivates us.

I came across this book by Susan Fiske called Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology. Now, Susan is a Professor of Psychology at Princeton University. She’s known for her work on social cognition, also work on stereotypes and prejudice, but social cognition is the overall topic of this book, Social Beings. It’s a really fascinating thing, and the topic of psychology has always been interesting to me. I think it’s one of the things that drove me to study Buddhism. Buddhism is a philosophy that delves into this topic of understanding yourself. Why do I think the things that I think and say the things that I say and do the things that I do and so on. It ties really well with what we’re finding in psychology. That’s where the topic for this podcast episode, What Moves Us, I wanted to present to you what the five core social motives are according to Susan Fiske.

I’m going to jump into this a little bit. According to Fiske, core social motives are fundamental underlying psychological processes that impel people’s thinking. It motivates, or its underlying the way we think, we feel and behave in situations that involve other people. The specific core motives described by Fiske are, you can memorize these with an acronym, BUCET, (like BUCKET but instead of K it’s C). These are the five core motives. The first one is belonging. The second one is understanding. Third is controlling. Fourth is enhancing self, and the fifth one is trusting, so you can see that acronym BUCET in there. All five motives orient toward making people fit better into groups, thus increasing their chances for survival. Now, this is where the evolutionary psychology part of it comes in.

Like I mentioned before, it’s like we’re hardwired to fear rejection, to avoid it at all costs. This fits in with the work that Susan Fiske has done with bringing to light these core social motives that govern everything that we do. I want to talk about these a little bit. Then, I want to correlate them a little bit with some Buddhist teachings and Buddhist concepts.

The first one is belonging, and this is … Belonging is the root-need. It’s the essential core social motive that the others are said to be in service to this core motive, facilitating or making possible the way that we function in social groups. This first one is the most important one, belonging. This is what came to mind when I was reading that e-mail about rejection. The opposite of rejection is belonging, and that happens to be the core social motive that Susan Fiske talks about in her book. I thought it would be a neat way to approach the topic of rejection by talking about belonging. Why do we have this intense longing for belonging?

According to Fiske, belonging is the idea that people need strong, stable relationships with other people. Belonging to a group helps individuals to survive psychologically and physically. Now, we know this from an evolutionary standpoint that at some point in time, our survival was literally dependent on whether or not we were able to belong with a group. Individuals had a much less likely chance of survival out in the wild than if they were in a cohesive group like a tribe. Think about this for a second from an evolutionary standpoint that we’re hardwired to want to fit in. We can’t help it. We can’t help it that we fear rejection, whether it be individual rejection from someone that we care about, someone that we like, or rejection on a bigger scale with a group. You can see. You can see this longing, this sense for belonging, how it can influence the way that we want to fit in with a group, a political group, a political ideology, a religious group or beliefs that might hold. Think about that in terms of this core motive of wanting to belong. There’s the first one, right? Belonging.

The second one is understanding. Understanding is the motivation of individuals to understand their environment, to predict what’s going to happen in case of uncertainties and to make sense of what doesn’t happen. We’re not very good with sitting with uncertainty. I’ve alluded to this before. I think this is why at some point in the past, I can imagine that when the first volcano started erupting, a group somewhere wasn’t content with not knowing what was happening, so they decided, “Oh, the gods must be angry. We need to cut people’s heads off,” right? Why would we draw faulty conclusions to what we don’t know? Because we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty. It’s a core. One of the core social motives is to understand, to make sense of things. That can be a good thing, but the downside to that is, often, we find ourselves as individuals or as groups, as society, as a species assigning meaning to things that don’t have any meaning. That can create problems like the example I gave with the volcano. Those are the first two. Belonging, understanding.

Now, the third one is controlling. According to Fiske, this encourages people to feel effective in dealing with their social environment and themselves. Control entails a relationship between what people do and what they get. Now, what comes to mind for me with controlling is that we’re playing life as if it were a game of chess. We’re thinking that, the illusion of control is that if we could just be smart enough and figure this out, we can do a checkmate on life. The reality, like I’ve mentioned many times, is that life is a lot more like a game of Tetris. This need for us to control that is projected to an external thing like, “I need to control you or control my spouse or control my kids or control my work, control anything,” right? The world that we live in, we’re trying to control.

I think where Buddhism comes in as an effective tool here is saying, “This need to control can be turned inward.” It can be projected towards yourself. It’s like, “Why do you want to control the world if you can’t sit and just be with whatever you’re experiencing?” This sense of control that is a core social motive, a need that we have, we can still have but turn the focus inward rather than outward. I’ll talk about that in a minute. I want to move on to the next one.

The fourth one is enhancing self. What does that mean, to enhance, enhancing self? Well. According to Fiske, this involves either maintaining self-esteem or being motivated by the possibility of self-improvement. Now remember, all of these tie back to the first one, which is belonging. You can see how this sense of enhancing self, to me, correlates very closely with the first one. It’s wanting to prove myself worthy of belonging, so I’m going to do whatever I think you think I need to do to prove myself worthy to belong with you. You as the group, right? I’m just talking collectively here. This is a need that we have. It’s a need that arises naturally in us to want to enhance ourselves to the point where we no longer have this fear or doubt of not being worthy to belong. You can see how that can be affected tremendously when coupled with societal views, societal norms, religious views and religious norms. You can see how that starts to play a role.

This is countered in the Buddhist concept of Buddha nature, which is the understanding that people are basically inherently good. Our natural tendency, I don’t know if good is the right word. I want to be careful with how I word that, but our natural tendency is to want to be kind, to want to end or minimize the suffering that we see in others, right? You see a wounded puppy crossing the road. Most people, granted not everyone, but most people, this is their natural tendency, to want to help to minimize suffering. Most people can feel empathy if you’re telling them a story, and you become emotional and you’re crying. Most people will tend to empathize and feel those same emotions. That is the natural, the natural position where according to the Buddhist worldview, that’s the baseline. If that gets muddied up with concepts and beliefs and ideas, that can become difficult to see as the natural position because we become blinded to it.

A good example of this would be racism, right? It’s not a natural thing that you’re born with. It’s your concept that you develop or you acquire through conditioning, the cognitive conditioning, so this can be taught to you, whether it be through religious ideology or societal views. You can be taught to be racist, but that’s not a natural thing, so I’m correlating that to this concept of enhancing self. The Buddhist approach would say, “What is there to enhance?” If anything, we want to uncover, like I mentioned in a previous episode. We want to peel back the layers of clay that are preventing us from seeing that inherent nature of kindness and compassion.

The fifth one is trusting, and this is, according to Fiske, this is, “Seeing the world as a benevolent place.” Again, you can see why this is so important for us to want to perceive that the world is a good place because what would it be like to live without a sense of trust? We would be on edge all the time. We see this in societies where there’s a lot of fear. There’s not a lot of trust. Other things start breaking down pretty quickly, so one of the things that motivates us, according to all this work, is to want to be able to trust, to want to see the world as a benevolent place.

When we start to look at these five core social motives in the context of, or through the lens of impermanence and interdependence, which is the Buddhist way of trying to understand things, it can be a powerful way of understanding ourselves. Now, just as an example, again, going back to belonging. If belonging is the core social motive of all of these, all of these tie into that one, belonging, the fear of rejection, we can start to see in ourselves a lot of the decisions that we make, the things that we say and the things that we think and correlate them to this core social motive to want to belong or the flip side of the same coin is the fear of rejection. This is why I wanted to present it this way because the fear of rejection is not really any different than the desire to belong. It’s two sides of the same coin. I think almost everything that we do in our lives is motivated by one or the other side of that coin.

We’re trying to belong, or we’re trying to avoid not belonging. We’re trying to avoid rejection, whether that be in personal relationships or in group relationships. For me, it’s been fascinating to sit and analyze my own actions and words and thoughts, and to think of it with this length of, “Why am I doing this? Where do I see? Oh, there’s this core motive inside me that I’m just trying to belong. I’m trying to not be rejected, to not risk being rejected.” Now, again, I bring this up because, like I said, we’re hardwired this way. It’s not like we can just not be this way. We would be going against millions of years of evolution here, so rather than thinking, “Okay. If this is how things are, I need to make sure that I don’t think this way anymore or feel this way anymore.” We want to approach this a little bit from a different angle.

Earlier this week, I posted my thoughts on the Heart Of Mindfulness Practice. I think this correlates with what we’ve been talking about with what moves us. Everything we perceive with our senses, sounds, sights, tastes, smells, physical sensations, and then of course thoughts, especially thoughts, gives rise to feelings about those perceptions. For example, we end up liking or disliking the experience. We feel comfort or discomfort about what we’re perceiving. If we like what we see, for example, we keep looking at it. If we don’t like what we see, we close our eyes, or we turn away. If we’re talking about taste and we taste something that we like, then we want more of it. If we don’t like it, we’re going to probably spit it out oro never taste that again. We do this with thoughts. We cling to the comfortable thoughts, and we feel emotional distress about the uncomfortable thoughts. This is the process that we go through with all of our perceptions. Craving and aversion, right? We’re craving after some of these perceptions and aversion towards others. We’re pushing and pulling. We’re liking and disliking.

The Heart Of Mindfulness Practice is to first see and recognize our tendency to pull toward or push away from these feelings. Second, instead of reacting out of habit to these feelings, try to remain steady with the feeling that arises. Now, the benefit of practicing this is that we can become more adept at placing a gap between the direct experience and our reaction to the feeling that arises from the experience. If we were to correlate this with the five core social motives, what we’re trying to understand here is, “Okay. Well, if I understand that this is the nature of what motivates me in how I work, the goal here isn’t to change it. Okay. Well, I’m going to rewire myself.” That’s not going to work. The goal here is that mindfulness practice is not about changing the feeling that arises. It’s not about changing the nature of how things are, but instead, understanding the relationship we have with the feelings that arise.

Now, this is a critical understanding because when I understand what motivates me in the context that at least these five core social motives, for me, it’s helpful to know, “Okay. Oh, this is why I felt this way. This is why I said this. This is why I reacted the way that I did.” We just see it. That starts to change the relationship that we have with it. It’s not about changing the thing itself. As a quick example, last week, I went down to Mexico to my 20-year high school reunion. It was fun getting together with everyone, but I had this experience that I want to share quickly with you because one of the things I struggled with in high school, about halfway through, being a twin was … I started to have this feeling that most of my friends aren’t really my friends. They’re our friends. They’re only friends with me because they’re friends with my brother. I have this perception that my brother is the funny one. He’s the one everyone likes, and I’m just the sidekick. I’m the one that’s stuck there because I’m the twin.

Some people had ways of identifying us in a joking way that aggravated this problem for me. They’d always call me the serious one and him the fun one, and this was evident in the nicknames that we were given. I started to really struggle with this concept. I can see now, right, as I study psychology or as I study concepts from Buddhism, and I see these core social motives. I see this first one, belonging or the fear of rejection. I see this very evident in my own life, in my past.

I had this fear that without my brother, I’d be totally rejected. I wouldn’t belong with this group because what makes me belong to the group is that I’m attached to him. That was very threatening for me. That caused a slight rift in the last year of high school between my brother and I because I needed to go out and find out who I was. What happens? Am I capable of having my own friends on my own without him? Those were things that I was trying to explore in my final year of high school. Like I said, it caused a little rift between my brother and I for a while.

Well, all of these, I’m bringing this up because all of these resurfaced last week when we were back down there. After high school, we moved away to different countries. We were in the US, and that life essentially ended 20 years ago, so we go back last week, and it’s like we stepped back in time with a lot of these friends we hadn’t seen since high school. The relationship and the engagement that they had with us was from that time, from 20 years ago. They had no reference of who my brother is now or who I am now or how I am.

I was working with the me from back then, 20 years ago, and as we got there a couple days before the reunion, we’re starting to make plans and trying to see our friends, and I would text someone and say, “Hey, we’re going to be dong this or that. Where are we going to see you?” They text back, “Oh, I already text your brother and made plans.” The first time, I didn’t think anything of it. In the second time, I was like, “Oh.” Then, the third time, third separate friend, the third friend that made it very clear that nobody was talking to me. They’re all communicating with my twin brother to make the plans of where we’re meeting and when and what time. All of a sudden, all of these emotions flooded back in from high school. I realized, this is that fear of rejection. It’s the fear that I’m not good enough. How do I prove myself worthy of these friendships because I’m just the sidekick that’s here along for the ride. All of these feeling welled up again just like from high school.

It was really funny, but this time, unlike then, I knew what was happening. I knew. I understand the core social motives. I see the world differently now through the context of a lot of these teachings that come from Buddhism and from psychology, so the experience was different. The feelings were the same. I want to be clear about that. The feelings of fear of rejection were just as real as they were back then. The strong desire I was feeling to want to belong, I felt like I didn’t belong, and I just wanted more than anything to be a part of the group. All of those feelings were very real just like they were when I first felt them. What was different this time was the relationship that I had to those feelings. As they surfaced, I was able to look at them and almost, in a way, smile and think, “Huh, I know where this is coming from. I know why I’m feeling this. I know what some of the causes and conditions are that give rise to these feelings.”

Now, that alone, that understanding alone changed the situation. I didn’t take anything personally. I didn’t feel down and out. I just thought, “Oh, how interesting,” and I reminded myself with the dynamics that we’re working with are the dynamics from 120 years ago. It’s like we went to this book that’s 20 years old, and we just turned the page of what would have been next 20 years ago that next day, had we stayed there. I thought, “Well, in that context, of course they would all be working with him,” because back then, he was the one. That was the very issue I was dealing with. He was the point of contact for us. I always just fell in line as, “Okay. Well, I’m the other one. I’m the extra here.” It was very interesting to go through that experience this time around with an entirely different relationship to the feelings, but like I said before, the feelings were the same, the exact same. It was a fascinating thing.

It made me feel really grateful for the time and the dedication that I’ve spent to trying to understand myself, to trying to have a more clear picture of the reality of why I think the things that I think and do the things that I do and say the things that I say. That’s the Heart Of Mindfulness Practice. There I saw it in action as I’m at my 20-year high school reunion, having an entirely different relationship to the feelings but experiencing the very same feelings that was fascinating for me. I was very grateful for knowing this time around, having a better understanding because there was no need to be reactive. There’s nothing to react to. What I was doing was just watching and seeing what would arise, and allowing it to be valid thinking, “Oh, I know why I feel this way,” and it’s a totally valid point of view, a totally valid feeling to have, that fear of rejection or that longing to belong. I just watched it for what it was.

What I hope to convey in this podcast episode is that the Heart of Mindfulness Practice and applied to what move us, when you understand the core social motives of belonging, understanding, controlling, enhancing yourself and trusting. As you understand with greater clarity, the nature of how you are, and notice I say how you are, not who you are, you’ll be more skillful with how you relate to the feelings that you have, the thoughts that you have, the emotions that you have. That’s what this is about, and that’s what I would say to the person who reached out in the e-mail about this topic of rejection, is yes. Rejection is a very real thing, and we feel it when the causes and conditions arise that allow that fear of rejection to be there just like I experienced last week. It will arise. If you’ve ever been betrayed by someone, anything that triggers that feeling, if you had issues growing up with the way that your parents treated you or siblings.

There’s so many ways that this fear of rejection can arise and can be triggered over and over and over throughout your life. It does for me, and I’m sure it does for all of you listening at some point and some arena or aspect of your life. It’s natural because we’re hardwired to want to belong. The flip side of that is that we’re hardwired to fear rejection like it’s the scariest thing on earth because at one point, it was. It was literally a matter of life and death. We work with that. It’s almost instinctual how it comes up. When it does, rather than riding the chain of reactivity, we can pause and say, “Oh, okay. I know why this feels this way. Now, what do I do next? How do I handle the situation skillfully rather than the habitual reactivity that may have take me down some other path I didn’t want to be on.

That’s what I wanted to talk about. What Moves Us: The Five Core Social Motives. If you want to learn more about this concept, I highly recommend Susan Fiske’s book. The book is called Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology. Now, if you’re into psychology, this will be an interesting book. Otherwise, it may be a pretty boring book. You may have just gotten in this episode, the summary that you would have wanted out of the book. If you do want to go more in depth, check that book out, Social Beings: Core Motives in Social Psychology.

Now, if you’re a regular listener to the podcast, I’ve got to plug my book here. You’re probably interested in all of the essential concepts of Buddhism and how they relate to your daily life. Well, in my newest book, No Non-sense Buddhism for Beginners, you’ll gain a fundamental understanding of buddhism and how to apply the philosophies in your everyday life. Those of you who have read it know this book has a question and answer format. It’s written in a way to be very easy to understand these concepts and these teachings and the practices and the history. If you’re interested in that, check it out. You can learn more about that book on everydaybuddhism.com

Like always if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others. Write a review. Give it a rating on iTunes. You can always join our online community to continue these discussions online. Go to secularbuddhism.com/community to get links to our Facebook pages. If you want 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. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening. Until next time.

72 – Yanny or Laurel? A Lesson in Mindful Communication

In this episode, I will share an audio clip that’s gone viral where some people hear the word “yanny” and others hear the word “laurel”. I will also discuss 6 tips to help us be more mindful of how we communicate.

The original Yanny / Laurel audio was shared on Vox.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 72. I am your host Noah Rasheta. Today, I am talking about mindful communication. Before I jump into the topic of this podcast, I want to remind you of 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. This has always been a key message that I try to reinforce throughout the podcast and in my general approach to teaching Buddhist concepts.

I want to introduce you to this idea of the topic for today, “Mindful communication.” About a year ago or so, I did a corporate mindfulness workshop. It was a two-day workshop for a company in Miami called, “Lightking.” They install LED lighting, billboards, LED billboards, digital signage for companies. When you’re driving and you see a digital sign that’s lit up, that’s what these guys do. I went down there and spent a couple days doing corporate mindfulness training workshop with all of the employees at that company. It’s an awesome company. If you’re ever looking for any kind of digital signs or digital billboards or anything along those lines, look them up, Lightking Outdoor I think is the name. They’re in Miami. Really good group of people.

Anyway, after that workshop, we’ve maintained a relationship and it’s developed into a once a month 30 to 45-minute mindfulness follow-up with all of the employees there. I had that call with them this morning, and the topic I’ve been preparing for this month’s call is mindful communication, specifically tips or tools to be more mindful with how we communicate in the workplace, with coworkers, with bosses, with customers, but also with loved ones, family.

I’ve had this topic on my mind for a while now. Then yesterday, I’ve discovered this internet phenomenon that’s going around with the sound of Yanny or Laurel. Those of you who don’t know, you’re missing out. So, there’s a, you may recall from a while back there was the audio clip, or no, an image of a dress. Some people could see the dress was like, I can’t remember the colors. It was pink and white, or it was black and gray, whatever those two combinations were. You have some people who see one, and other people see the other.

That’s been around for a while, and I always thought that was interesting. This is the equivalent of that with an audio clip. This one to me is fascinating, because it’s like you hit play, it’s a direct experience, whether I’m listening on my phone or on headphones, or the speaker in the house, it doesn’t matter. If you have a group of people there and they listen to it, some people will hear the audio clip saying the name, “Yanny.” Other people will hear it saying, “Laurel.” I am one of those who hears Laurel. There are some people who can hear both. There are some people who can’t hear either one of those names. They hear a different name like Larry or some just a whole different option.

What I find is fascinating is there doesn’t seem to be a formula that helps know which one you are. At first, I thought it might be age, but I’ve tried this around kids, and some kids hear one, some kids hear the other. It doesn’t seem to be influenced by age. It doesn’t seem to be influenced by gender. It just seems like some people hear one name and some people hear the other. I have this clip. I’ll play it for you and you’ll see what you hear.

Speaker 2:                    Yanny. Yanny. Yanny.

Noah Rasheta:              Okay, so that was the clip. Now, some of you probably heard “Yanny” or some variation of that. Others of you heard Laurel.

Speaker 2:                    Yanny. Yanny. Yanny. Yanny.

Noah Rasheta:              It’s very likely that whichever one you heard, or you may have heard both, or you may have heard something completely different, but whatever you heard, you’re probably thinking to yourself how on earth can somebody else hear … If you heard Laurel, you’re probably thinking, “How on earth can somebody else hear Yanny?” For me, I don’t even hear anything that remotely resembles a Y sound, the Ya. I don’t hear that at all, but I tried it this morning in my office with my coworkers. All five of them very clearly heard Yanny. Not a single one of them heard Laurel. In fact, they all thought I was joking or pretending to hear Laurel, because they were incredulous with, “No way that that sound clip is saying the word Laurel.”

I just find that fascinating. When I played this audio clip this morning on that conference call with the guys at Lightking when we were doing our mindful communication follow-up call for the month, every single one of them heard Laurel. Nobody heard Yanny. In fact, it was hard for me to try to convey the teaching that I wanted to tie to the audio clip, because nobody heard the other version. They could only hear what I hear, which is Laurel. I just think that’s fascinating.

I’ll tie that in a little bit more into the discussion, but I want to specifically talk about mindful communication. The whole point of practicing Buddhism, practicing mindfulness as a way of life is that ultimately we’re trying to live more mindfully. Now, what does that mean? For me, that means seeing things, hearing things in this case through that lens of impermanence and interdependence. That’s what mindfulness means for me. I’d love to discuss six different ways that I think we can practice being more mindful and how we communicate.

The first one is listening deeply. This is not just what someone is saying when they’re communicating to you, but trying to at least have a glimpse of understanding where that’s coming from, why are they saying what they’re saying? Where is that coming from? Why are they saying it? What are they hoping to accomplish with the communication that’s taking place? This is essentially listening beyond what’s being said. I think it’s helpful when we think about interdependence, right? We talk about interdependence as the understanding that all natural phenomenon has causes and conditions.

That’s to say this is because that is. So whatever this is, there’s a that. You try to understand what that is. If you get to that, that also has a that, right? It goes on and on. It’s like this incredibly complex web of causes and conditions. When I’m listening, I’m trying to understand that. What’s behind what’s being said? Rather than formulating an answer while someone’s talking to me, I may be trying to think, “I wonder where this is coming from. What are they trying to accomplish with this communication?” So trying to listen in layers.

What is the thing behind what’s being said? What’s behind that? Often you may find that it’s, if somebody’s talking to you using a harsh tone and you can detect, “Okay, there’s a lot of anger in what’s being said,” you could ask, “Where is that anger coming from?” Then if you can pinpoint that, where is that coming from? Why does that bother them? You may get a few layers back and realize, “Okay, I’m receiving communication here, and I’m understanding the complexity of these layers and that changes the way that I relate to the communication, to what’s being said.”

That’s the general idea of listening deeply, trying to hear what’s behind what’s being said. Often you can listen deeply not just with your ears but by looking at queues, right? Facial expressions, hand gestures, you can read behind or you can listen beyond what’s being said by observing with your eyes, by several different methods, not just hearing. That’s the first one, listening deeply.

The second one is being in the moment, being present to what’s being communicated. Now, in our society in this day and age, it’s very common for us to be distracted with our phones specifically. I’m sure all of you have experienced this at one point where somebody is, or you’re trying to communicate with someone and they’re just not there. They’re either on their phone. They’re reading an email while you’re talking to them or things of that nature. This is the gift of presence.

I think it’s probably one of the greatest things that we can give to someone is our undivided attention. Being there is focusing on here and now, and paying really close attention to what’s being said. Whatever you were doing, you can get back to it. You can take a 30, 45-second break from your phone while somebody is talking to you and just listen to them. I see this, this happens a lot I think with relationships. The people that we get close to, we’re used to hearing from them and sometimes I know I do this. My wife will be talking to me and I’m just like, “Ah-huh,” nodding my head, and really I’m not paying attention.

Often times, I’m actually even looking at my phone scrolling through social media or something while she’s telling me something. It’s really hard to pay attention to what someone’s really saying if you’re not paying attention as obvious as that sounds. If you start to look, you’ll notice how common this is. Just watch how people interact with each other. Watch how people interact when you’re talking to them and see if you can notice how often you do this to other people. That’s the second step. Try to be present. Put the phone down. Try to put the thoughts aside for a minute and just listen to what’s being said. Be present.

The first one is listening deeply. The second one is being in the moment. This third one I think is an important one. This is trying to understand, making an effort to understand. At the end of the day, communication is about trying to understand, it’s about trying to convey something, right? If you’re communicating with someone, there’s one goal. You’re trying to get either a message across or an idea, whatever it is, you’re trying to get that from your head to their head, and there has to be understanding for that to work.

I think our tendency is to think of communication as a one way street. I communicate to you, and it’s my responsibility as an effective communicator to get my message to you, but that’s not entirely true. Communication is a two-way street. I have a responsibility as the listener to try to understand what you’re saying to me. If I’m communicating or if you’re communicating with me, it’s not that your job is to talk to me and I just listen, it’s also my job to decipher what you’re saying, right? Communication happens two ways.

I don’t think that happens enough in our society, especially in marriages, in relationships where communication is a struggle. I think often times that’s why, because one person is trying to be the effective communicator while the other one doesn’t do anything to be an effective receiver of the communication. I like to think of this as what responsibility do I have as a listener when someone’s talking to me, when someone is communicating with me? That to me is a form of mindful communication on my part as the listener.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced this where somebody will tell you something, and you think you understood only to find out later that you’re not doing exactly what they said and they’re like, “I told you.” You’re like, “Yeah, I thought I understood.” I notice this a lot in my relationship, communication with my wife. The first four years of our marriage, we were not good communicators at all. We thought we were, because she would say something and I thought I knew what that meant, and same thing back. I would say things and I think she knows what I mean and she really didn’t.

A big part of this for me was my lack of understanding of the role that I have to play as the listener. I have a responsibility to understand what’s being said to me. One way you can test this, the tool here for this step would be to try to reiterate what’s being said to you. If someone’s communicating with you, you can say, “Okay, I believe what you’re trying to say is, and then regurgitate that info back.” You may be surprised at how often you’ll relay something back and I’ll be like, “No, that’s not what I meant.” I find this quite often like I said in my own marriage, where especially if it’s a sensitive thing. There’s a slight argument, or we’re trying to clarify something and she’ll express something to me and I’m thinking “I totally got this,” and then I’ll reiterate that back.

I’ll say, “Okay, so what I understand is why you’re upset is that I’m blah, blah, blah or doing this or that.” She’s like, “No, that’s not what it is.” I’m like, “Okay.” Well, that changes everything. I think this is something that is required on both parts. The one communicating and the one receiving the communication to feel a sense of responsibility to understand each other. That’s understanding.

The fourth one is non-judgment. For me, this means removing moral judgment from communication. In other words, it’s not about right or wrong like, “Was it right of you to criticize me, or was it wrong of me to respond to you the way that I did, because of the tone that you used or things of that nature.” Get right or wrong out of the picture. Think of it as skillful versus unskillful. Am I being skillful with how I communicate? Am I being unskillful with how I respond to the communication that I receive? That’s it. That’s the only game I’m trying to play. I’m not judging communication on a moral scale. I’m judging my ability to communicate or your ability to communicate with me on whether or not it’s skillful.

That changes the dynamic. The way that I communicate with my dad for example is different than how I communicate with my mom or with my twin brother. They all three have different communication styles. Now obviously, I feel like I understand my twin brother’s communication style the most, because it’s like almost exactly like mine. We get along very well. We can talk about anything, and the communication is never part of a breakdown there.

With my mom, it’s more compatible. With my dad, it’s a communication style that’s more foreign to me, and it’s taking me more time in my adult life to feel like I can understand and really tap into his communication style, and I can receive that more skillfully. Because like I said before, the role that I feel as the receiver of communication, I feel a sense of responsibility there. Where at one point in my life, I may have struggled hearing instructions or communication from my dad. It was partially his communication style, but it was also partially perhaps even more my listening style, my ability to take that communication and understand it.

That’s changed for us and it’s changed the dynamic of being able to communicate effectively with him, and to receive communication effectively with him. That is non-judgment. The fifth one is don’t make things personal. Don’t make it personal. I think we personalize things all the time. Interdependence and impermanence help us to remove ourselves from taking things personally, understand that it’s not about you, it’s about what’s trying to be accomplished through the communication.

Like I mentioned before with communication, there’s a goal, and the goal is the giving of the communication and the receiving of the communication. We personalize it by attaching the sense of identity to the conveying of the message and to the receiving of the message. That can be pretty problematic. An example of this would be like in the workplace, this was brought up this morning as an example. If I’m receiving communication from my superior like a boss, and my boss was to say something like, at the end of allocated, do you understand what I said? It’s very possible that I would say, “Yes, I did” even if I didn’t, because I have this sense of, “Well, I don’t want my boss to think that I didn’t get it. They’ll think I’m done if I didn’t get it or something along those lines.

What just happened in that thought process was I personalized the communication. The reception of the message was attached to this sense of my sense of identity, who I am rests upon whether or not I understood this message. So rather than asking for more clarification, which is what the logical solutions and not understanding the communication, because I personalized it, I may be saying, “Yeah, I get it” and really I didn’t. That’s just one example.

So, that’s making it about you and not about the message or not about the goal of the communication that’s taking place. Remove yourself from that equation and make it about the message. Then suddenly it’s easier to receive the message or even to give the message without skewing the message. Another example of this, if I were to have to communicate something to someone, for example let’s say my renter is late to pay their rent, and I’m thinking, “I want to be careful with how I word this to them, because I don’t want them to think I’m mean or something along those lines.” Boom, there I’ve done it again. I’ve personalized the communication, because the communication that needs to take place is very clear. The communication could be, “Hey, I need the rent, because I have to pay my bills,” and I’m not going to take that personally. I’m not being mean. That’s just what needs to be said.

You don’t need to take it personally, because it doesn’t mean anything against you, but the fact needs to be addressed. That’s the goal of the communication is to address the situation at hand without making this a personal thing. Anyway, those are two examples that I just thought of. I hope that that conveys that message a little bit.

Then there’s the sixth one, which is non-attachment. This goes hand in hand with not personalizing things. Non-attachment, we attach our sense of identity to everything including our communication. Non-attachment is recognizing, “I’m not what I say. You’re not what you say.” I’m going to disconnect the person from the idea or from the communication, because I understand that there is no permanent self that’s behind what’s being communicated.

An example of this would be understanding for example that you are who you are based on all these external circumstances that are constantly changing. One of which is hunger for example. I know I use this example a lot, but I think it’s so obvious. If the hungry you will communicate in a different way than the satisfied you, the you that’s not hungry, the satiated you, right? We’ve all experienced this. This is why there are little signs that say, “Don’t judge me for what I said when I was hungry,” or things along those lines, because it’s true.

If I wake up late, and I’m still really tired because I stayed up late, and I’m bogged that the alarm woke me up, and I was stuck in traffic the whole way to work, and I didn’t have breakfast. Then I arrived and now communication is to take place, well guess what? Whether I’m giving that or receiving that communication, it’s going to be different than had all those little things been different. I woke up rested, I had a wonderful breakfast. On my way to work, someone rolled down the window and said, “Hey, you dropped a $100 bill. It’s yours. Here.” All these little things that affect how you are at any given moment, all of those are how you are, none of them are who you are.

When you’re communicating, trying to be mindful in your communication, recognize that about you. Recognize it about the person communicating with you. If my boss is here and they’re saying these things and I’m thinking, “I wonder what affected this or where this is coming from. Is this a hungry them? A grumpy them? Is this a boss who had a bad email that they started the day with?” It could be all kinds of things. Maybe not even on that short of a time scale, it could be long-term, right? This person is how they are, because of where they were raised, or because of how they were raised. It could be long-term things too, but they’re still how they are and not who they are.

In that group that I was talking about with the corporate training, there’s someone from New York. The stereotype people from New York are rude. There may be some truth to that, that’s why you have stereotypes, but again you’re looking at, “Well, that’s not how they are. That’s not who they are, that’s just part of how they are. Why? Because, well, that’s where they grew up.” People who grew up like that, living in that specific part of the country may talk that way. Again, you can see that and recognize, that’s not the person, that’s other factors that make that person be how they are.

Those are the six tools. Listening deeply, being in the moment, trying to understand, recognizing that you have an active role as the listener, a sense of responsibility to try to understand what’s being said to you. Non-judgment, making this about skillful and unskillful communication, not good or bad, right or wrong. Not personalizing it, which I think goes hand in hand with the last one, non-attachment. Communicating in a style where I’m not attached to my communication.

Now, another way that that unfolds for me is I could communicate an idea to you for example. You may not like that idea. You may think that’s the dumbest idea in the world, but it’s just the idea. It’s not me, that’s the idea that you don’t like. That for me is very important to understand the idea that I may hold may not make sense to you, but it doesn’t have to do with me, it’s the idea. This is where it all circles back to this Yanny or Laurel thing.

I think it’s so fascinating to me that on a small scale with a sound, we can start to see this firsthand. This is direct experience that people perceive things very different. The thing itself is the same. The audio clip is the same audio clip, but you may hear Yanny and I may hear Laurel. You may not understand how on earth I’m hearing Laurel, and I don’t understand how on earth you’re hearing Yanny. There’s nothing that I can do to explain to you that’s going to get you to hear it the way that I hear it and backwards.

It’s just that’s how you hear it, that’s how I hear it. Now, extend that same understanding off to bigger things. Religious views, political views, opinions about education, how to raise your kids, you name it. Anywhere we go with this, we run into the same issue. What fascinates me with seeing this phenomenon unfolding on Facebook isn’t the fact that you heard something and I heard something else. That doesn’t necessarily surprise me. What’s been fascinating to me is seeing how adamant someone can be that you must be doing something to hear it wrong, because I am certain that this is the right way to hear it.

To the point where people are accusing others of, “You’re just pretending. You have to hear what I’m hearing, you’re just pretending you don’t hear that. You’re pretending you hear something else,” and it’s just fascinating to see that. How we interpret the multiple perspectives that are unfolding on this one sound, the sound of Yanny or the sound of Laurel. I hope that we can take that into that understanding into our overall communication. If I’m communicating an idea, a belief, an opinion or whatever it is, I can be more mindful with it. I think this understanding of the differences like of Yanny and Laurel can be really helpful for that.

I run into this all the time where people who view the world through a certain worldview, a religious worldview for example are truly baffled at how can I view the world from this other lens? People who view the world through a secular lens will do the same back. It’s like, “I don’t understand how on earth you could believe in a God and how you could believe these crazy things.” It’s the same thing like, “I can’t believe you hear Yanny and I can’t believe that you hear Laurel.” It’s the same thing. There are those lucky few who can hear both and they’re like, “Okay, I get it. I see both sides,” but then there are some people who can’t.

Now, with certain things I feel like I can see both sides with this specific Yanny thing, I can’t. I honestly cannot hear Yanny at all, anything even close to it. All I hear is a very clear distinct Laurel. It’s okay. I don’t have to hear yours to believe that that’s what you hear. If that’s what you hear, I believe you. If that’s what you say that you hear, I get it. That’s fine. Imagine extending that sense of non-attachment to communication. It’s like, “Well, it’s just what I hear. It doesn’t mean it’s right. It doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just this is what is and for you, that is what is.”

Yeah, that’s what I wanted to convey with this podcast episode. Again, if you’re a regular podcast listener, you’re probably also interested in essential concepts of Buddhism, how they relate to your life, and my newest book, “No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners,” which actually came out to the public yesterday, May 15th. You’ll gain a fundamental understanding of Buddhism and how to apply the philosophy of it in your every day life. The book is written in easy to understand, question and answer format. It has four different parts about the Buddha, concepts, teachings, and practices. Yeah, you should give it a try if this is a topic that you’re interested in.

If you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes. You can join our online community on secularbuddhism.com/community. 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. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for listening and until next time.

71 – Breaking the Chain of Reactivity

At any given moment, we’re all acting upon what has been set in motion by others. A central teaching of Buddhism is that we can pause and break the cycle of reactivity. We can learn to be more skillful in how we contribute to the never-ending web of causes and effects going on all around us. In this episode, I will discuss the notion of breaking the chain or reactivity.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Hello, and welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism podcast.

This is Episode Number 71. I am your host, Noah  Rasheta. And today I’m talking about breaking the chain of reactivity.

If you’re a regular podcast listener, you’re probably also interested in the essential concepts of Buddhism, and how they relate to your daily life. In my newest book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, you’ll gain a fundamental understanding of Buddhism, and how to apply the philosophies in your everyday life. The book consists of a simple four-part structure addressing the different aspects of Buddhism, the Buddha, key Buddhist teachings, key Buddhist concepts, and current Buddhist practices. And it’s written in a straightforward questions and answers format that simplifies the vital concepts of Buddhism into easy-to-understand ideas. It’s presented in a simple conversational style, and the information and guidance, and No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, provides the groundwork that is necessary for building or continuing your own Buddhist practice.

You can learn more about the book by visiting everydaybuddhism.com

Before I jump into the topic of the podcast episode, I want to remind you of the Dalai Llama’s advice. Do not use what you learn from Buddhism to be a Buddhist. Use it to be a better whatever you already are. And this has always been one of the key messages that I try to reinforce throughout the podcast, and in general, with my approach to teaching Buddhist concepts.

All of this is about helping you to become a better whatever you already are. It’s not about changing you from a something to a something else. So keep that in mind.

And the topic I’ve prepared for today is called, Breaking the Chain of Reactivity. Now I think this is a really important topic. If you’ve ever been in London, and you traveled on their Underground, the subway system, you will recognize the phrase or the expression, “Mind the gap.” It’s on the yellow line down by your feet when you are about to board the train. And it’s a warning to mind the gap between the platform and the train. And you hear it over the intercom over and over and over. You always hear them saying, “Mind the gap.” And it’s a fun expression that’s used even as a tourist promotion. Now, you can buy shirts that say, “Mind the gap,” or mugs, or little street signs that have the Underground logo, and this message of, “Mind the gap.” And it’s fun because it’s also a reminder to mind the gap between stimulus and response.

I have a friend who was telling me that, in their family, they’ve kind of adopted this as a motto. And rather than mind the gap, they say, “Gap the mind,” as a reminder to put the gap in their mind between stimulus and response. And in that conversation, and learning a little bit more about how they use this expression, something came up that actually prompted me to clarify this in a podcast episode. It was the idea of how this gap actually works. I think it’s a common misunderstanding to think that the gap between stimulus and response is found in an external circumstance, and then how I feel or react to that.

For example, “You call me a name, and here I am feeling angry. Well, I wasn’t capable of putting the gap between that stimulus and this response.” And that’s the misconception I want to address today. That’s why I’m calling this, Breaking the Chain of Reactivity, because first I want to bring attention to the fact that it’s a chain. It’s not that there’s a stimulus and a response, although there is. It’s more like there’s a stimulus and a response, and that response is the stimulus of the next response. And that chain goes on and on and on. At any given moment, everything that’s happening now is happening because of what happened before. And this is the overall teaching of interdependence.

So you can look at this through the lens of interdependence and start to see, not just this stimulus and response, but what was the … The stimulus is the response to some prior stimulus. And that goes on and on and on, ’cause it’s a chain, and it gets really complex, and it spreads out to the point where we really have no way to know the complexities of the causes and conditions that are leading to this moment, where I am about to interact with it, and perpetuate the causes and conditions from this moment going forward.

So another visual that another friend of mine posted one day on Facebook that I thought was clever and funny. She said, “I’d love to see the gap between stimulus and response when somebody’s throwing a ball at your face.” And I think that’s funny because it’s a fun visual. I don’t know if fun visual is the right word. It’s a humorous visual imagining, especially if no one gets hurt, obviously. But I’m thinking okay, like, so there’s the stimulus. “I’m gonna kick the ball.” And there’s your response. What are you gonna do about it? Are you gonna be reactive and duck? Or are you gonna put a gap there and really think about it? You know, “How fast is that ball coming at my face?” Well, by putting the gap in, boom, you’ve been hit.

But I think the deeper thing of what’s being insinuated with this perpetuates the misconception, right? This isn’t about putting a gap and how I react. We are hardwired to react, right? If you’re walking on a trail, and the bushes start rattling, or you hear a rattling sound, you’re hardwired to react, to jump and run, or do whatever you gotta do, because we’ve evolved to put our safety first to survive. And it’s not conducive to your survival to sit and think, “Is that a rattlesnake? Should I really think this through? Is it necessary for me to get away from this spot?” You know, it doesn’t work that way.

So again, going back to the chain of reactivity, what I wanna highlight here is it’s not just the stimulus and response. It’s, “Where am I in the ongoing chain of reactivity? And at this moment, can I put a pause, and can I become more skillful with how I handle whatever comes next?”

So another visual that I think helps explain this is, when I’m teaching a workshop, I always show a slide, when I’m talking about this topic, of a wall with a hole in it. And it’s obvious by looking at the picture that it’s a hole that somebody punched a wall. And this is the chain of reactivity, right? The gap is between the emotion and the reaction to the emotion. Not necessarily between the event and the emotion. So in that example of the wall, something happened that made that person angry. That’s one stimulus and response. The next one was, “Here I am feeling angry, and I can’t contain the fact that I’m angry, so I’m gonna do something about it. So I punched the wall.” That was another stimulus and response. The stimulus in this case was feeling anger. The response was reacting to the anger by punching something.

So again, the misconception is that mindfulness is going to help me to no longer feel angry. That’s not true. It’s not about not feeling emotions. That’s impossible, right? It’s about what do we do with the anger? The emotions that we feel, they’re all natural. They’re all normal. Some are pleasant. Some are unpleasant. You’re going to be angry. You’re going to be sad. You’re going to be frustrated, right? At different stages of life, under different circumstances, it’s natural to feel these things. You’re going to feel angry if somebody does … If the causes and conditions are met to feel anger, anger arises. Boom. That’s all normal and natural.

What we’re looking at here is, “What do I do with that? Now that I’m experiencing this emotion, now what do I do with it?” That’s where I put the gap. And again, going to this, looking at this as a chain, it may be that the gap happens several links into the chain. “I’m angry. I punched the wall. My hand is bleeding. I’m going to the hospital. I find out how much I have to pay the doctor. Now I start swearing.” You know? Like maybe then, at that moment, I put the gap. “Oh, okay. Now what do I do next?” Well, the very next thing, it can be a continuation of the unskillful reactivity, or it can be the start of a skillful action.

So what I wanna emphasize with this is it’s not about putting this at the beginning. It’s about putting this somewhere in the chain. It may be six links into it that I’m finally capable of stopping and seeing the reactivity, and saying, “Okay, I’m not gonna be reactive any more. Now I’m gonna be more skillful.” And with time, it could get better, but it never reaches the point where I will never be reactive. That’s not the point. The point isn’t to not be reactive, the point is, “Can I stop my reactivity once it starts? Because the reactivity sets me up for more reactivity,” right? I react. That’ another … And then there’s the new stimulus and response.

So the stimulus and response is the chain. Every stimulus has a response, and every response is the stimulus of a new response, and that chain goes on and on and on.

So this is about saying, “Can I put a gap anywhere in the chain?” Sure, it may have been 20 links into it, but that’s better than spending a whole life at reactivity where I never put a gap in it. That’s what this is about.

So the gap is about seeing the stopping of the reactivity. But it doesn’t matter where in the chain, because as soon as I realize it’s all a chain, “Well, I might as well stop it now even though I’m 20 or 30 links into it, because it could have kept going.” So, in that sense, it’s the reactivity to the reactivity that we’re trying to stop. I hope that makes sense.

So the exercise, or the invitation that I would extend to you, as you think about this concept, is try to pause and see if you can detect where you are in the chain of reactivity. Because every single one of us right now is, in the present moment, is … It’s a part of a chain of reactivity. “How did I get here?” Right? “What did it take for this moment to arise?” And you can look at this in several topics in your life with regards to relationships, career decisions. You know, “Why did I just buy this car?” You could pause at any of these moments and say, “Can I start to see some of the stimulus and response, the causes and conditions that have led for this moment to arise?” And that gives me the flexibility to say what comes next, right? The whole concept of what comes next is that is the gap. That is the pause. Because it’s inside of that that I can see, hopefully, in myself, “Am I stopping the reactivity or am I going to be a little bit more skillful in whatever comes next?”

And this can happen, like I said, in many areas of your life. I remember pausing for a moment and recognizing that one of the things I was doing … Eight years into a decision that I made, I could see that I was doing this because of something that had happened that made me feel like, “I need to prove myself, so I’m going to do this or that.” In this case, it was my business. I’ll just kind of give you the background real quick.

So I was feeling a sense of … I guess I was having an issue with my sense of self-worth. And I had this view that if I could build up a big company and prove that I’m a great entrepreneur, then I can restore that sense of self-worth. So here I was eight years later, right? I had built a business and it was really successful. And I was looking at that thinking, “Oh, how funny. I can …” I stopped and I could see, eight years later, this chain of reactivity. Here I was because of something I felt eight years before that made me feel like, “This is how I prove myself. I build a business.”

Now, I say that just because the exercise didn’t make me say, “Okay. Well now I’m gonna give it all up.” That didn’t happen. It took a few more years and my company ended up dying of natural causes later that had nothing to do with that moment of introspection. But I was able to see one aspect in my life where I was continuing the chain of reactivity and caught up in this chain of reactivity. And then I was able to pause and say, “Do I really wanna keep going like this? Or can I be more skillful with what I do next?” And it gave me that sense of freedom in my career choice. “What do I wanna do next with my career?” But that insight came from pausing and seeing long, long ago, the start of that specific chain of causes and conditions that I was caught in.

And, like I said, you can look at this in a lot of aspects of your life. But I do wanna emphasize, the purpose of this isn’t to say, “Okay, I’m gonna change everything right now, immediately.” That might not be skillful either. Especially like relationships, right? It’s not like, “Okay. Well, fine. You were my friend but I see I became your friend out of reactivity and that’s it. Now I don’t need your friendship.” And, boom. You get rid of a friend. That’s not it either. It’s putting the gap, wherever you are in the present moment and saying, “Could this be more skillful?” That’s what you’re after.

So, again, why do we wanna mind the gap? Why do we want to break the chain of reactivity? Don’t think of this in terms of right and wrong, or where I am and where I could be that would be better than where I am. Think of it in terms of skillful action versus unskillful reactivity. “All I’m trying accomplish in my life through this exercise is to see in what areas of my life am I caught up in unskillful reactivity. And can I put a pause there and change that to have more skillful action moving forward?”

I mean, just imagine for a moment how much more enjoyable your life could be if you developed the ability to be more skillful in your actions, rather than just remaining unskillfully reactive to everything that unfolds. “This happens and then I reacted this way.” And it might be 10 years later I realize, “Oh, man! I’ve been reactive this whole time.” Imagine preventing that by developing this ability that, at any given moment, you can kind of just start to pause and say, “What am I reacting to? What in my life am I doing out of a sense of reactivity?” And is it skillful, at this point, to pause and say, “How do I wanna move forward next?”” but that’s really what this is about.

And you can correlate all of this with the concept or the teaching of karma, which the word karma itself simply means action. That’s all it means. At any given moment, we’re all acting on the karma that has been set in motion by others, and by life in general, right?

So the central teaching of karma is that we can pause, and we can break the cycle of reactivity. It’s in that mindful pause that we have the freedom to choose a more skillful action to contribute to that never-ending web of causes and conditions that we’re all a part of. So when I start to see that in myself, that life is unfolding in all these complex ways. And yet I am interacting with life as it unfolds, and my very interaction with it affects everyone else.

Now some of the obvious ones, for me, are my kids, my wife, people close to me, right? There’s how I’m handling life, and the things that life throws at me, that are directly affecting their lives. I’m influencing the causes and conditions that they will be working with in their life.

So, for me, there’s a sense of responsibility where I can pause and say, “Am I doing this the most skillfulled way possible?” And again, I cannot overemphasize, it’s not, “Am I doing this right?” Or, “Am I doing it wrong?” None of us are doing anything right. We’re all just trying our best with the very limited knowledge we have of what we’re doing, right?

So what I’m trying to get at is, “Could this be more skillful, the way I’m handling life as it unfolds, or am I just reacting to everything? Everything that happens, I’m just reacting. Do I wanna go through life unskillfully reactive to everything? Or do I want to be more skillful with my actions to life as it unfolds?”

So that’s what I’m trying to get at. The action, karma, it’s the action that’s taken. It’s not the result. I think a lot of times we get caught up with this, about the results. It’s about results. This is kind of flipping it and saying it’s not about results. Sometimes we don’t know what the results are, right? “I do this and that happens. I didn’t know that that was gonna happen.” We don’t know. We don’t know the results. This is where the story of the horse, and who knows what is good and bad, right? We don’t know. This is about the action. “Is the action I’m taking skillful, or is this just a form of reactivity?” That’s the invitation with this overall discussion, that I hope you can listen to this and say, you know, “What areas of my life am I more reactive? And what would life look like if I could swap that reactivity for something that’s just a little bit more skillful and deliberate with my actions? I’d rather have skillful actions than unskillful reactions.”

So I hope that makes sense. And again, this isn’t about getting rid of reactions, right? Again, the example of walking down a path and hearing rustling in the bushes. Like, you’re hardwired to be reactive. So reactivity is not the problem. It’s taking that natural tendency to be reactive that we’ve all evolved with, and extending it into everything. You know, “I’m losing a job.” Boom. “I’m just as reactive as if I’m walking and the bush is rattling.” Well, in one of those scenarios it’s not so skillful to react the way that you’re reacting. So, “Can I put a pause in the reactivity of the reactivity?” Not in the initial reactivity. The pause happens in the reactivity to the reactivity, somewhere in that chain. And like I said, it might be five links in. It might be 20 links in. And then I’m capable of pausing, and saying, “Okay, is this the most skillful way to handle what’s happening? Maybe yes. Maybe no. And if it’s no, then I’m gonna change my course of action.”

That is karma in action. At that moment, the action that I took is more skillful than the action that would have been taken had I continued down the path of reactivity only. So I minimize suffering for myself and others. That’s how it works.

So the misconception is thinking, “I’ll never react.” Don’t think of it like that. Think of, “At what point in my reactivity can I notice that I’ve been reactive? And now I’m gonna be skillful with what comes next in that chain of reactivity.” That’s how I would invite you to think about this.

And if you can start to see that in your life, you’ll feel an incredible sense of liberation. What is the liberation from? It’s liberation from the reactivity. Nobody wants to be caught up in a reactive way of living. That’s not enjoyable. And the moment you can see that, and you understand interdependence, you become liberated from the reactivity. That’s what you become liberated from. And, man, that’s a great feeling to see that in your own life, in different aspects of your life, and say, “I’m not gonna continue this reactivity. I’m gonna try something different.”

So that’s the topic that I have for you. I hope you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode. Feel free to share it, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes.

As always, if you would like to join our online community to continue conversations around these topics, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community And on that page there are links to our Facebook groups.

If you would 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. But I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon.

So thank you for listening. Until next time!

70 – Beware of the Guru Mind

In this episode, I will discuss my personal views about having a Guru/teacher. In order to learn something new or to develop a new skill, it can be helpful and wise to have the guidance and advice of a teacher but it can also become detrimental when we create a dependency on that teacher. The Buddha compared his own teachings to a raft that when no longer needed, should be left behind.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 70. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the guru mind, that is to say, the mind that seeks a guru.

A quick note before jumping into this topic: If you’re listening to this podcast, it’s probably safe for me to assume that you are also interested in the essential concepts of Buddhism and how they relate to your daily life. One of the goals of the podcast is to take Buddhist concepts and teachings and then explain them in a way that’s easy to understand and practical for everyday life.

In addition to the podcast, I’ve also written a book to help with this process, and with the book, No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners, you’ll gain a fundamental understanding of Buddhism and how to apply the philosophies in your everyday life. The book consists of a simple four-part structure addressing the different aspects of Buddhism: The Buddha, key Buddhist concepts, the Buddhist teachings, and current Buddhist practices. It’s written in a straightforward, questions-and-answers format that simplifies the vital concepts of Buddhism into easy-to-understand ideas. It also includes what I call Everyday Buddhism Sidebars. These are little anecdotes that make Buddhism a little less abstract by offering down-to-earth examples from my own everyday life. Presented in a simple conversational style, the information and guidance in No-Nonsense Buddhism for Beginners provides the groundwork that is necessary for building or continuing your own Buddhist practice. You can learn more about the book by visiting everydaybuddhism.com.

A secondary note that I haven’t mentioned in a while is the quote … Remember 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.” And I want to emphasize this. The world doesn’t need more Buddhists. The world just needs more people who are awake and aware of things, people who are striving to have more understanding, people who want to strive to make the world a better place by being more conscious, more kind, more compassionate, more willing to listen and see more deeply, and, ultimately, to see the impermanent and interdependent nature of all things.

We’re all in the same boat here, the boat Planet Earth, and given that today is Earth Day, and I’m recording this on Earth Day, I wish we could see ourselves as just Earthlings and not be so divided by our isms. You know, I’m reminded of a quote by Dr. Mark Epstein, who asked, “What is the difference between a Buddhist and a non-Buddhist?” He goes on to answer, “The non-Buddhist thinks there’s a difference.” Unfortunately, I know a lot of Buddhists, or practitioners of Buddhism, who don’t quite understand what this means. In a way, this is implying that even if you see yourself as a Buddhist, you still don’t get it because you see yourself as separate from being a non-Buddhist.

It’s just a fun thing to consider today. What are the labels that separate me from others? What are your isms? And again, this isn’t to say that we need to get rid of all of our isms. I don’t know that that’s possible, but the attachment that we have to them … I like to view Buddhism as something that I practice. It’s something that I teach. It’s something that I really enjoy, but it’s not something that I am, because I’m just me. While today I follow this path, five years ago, I didn’t. 10 years ago I had no clue what any of this stuff, any of these topics were, and I would have identified as something else. Whatever the ism is, hold loosely to it. Hold it, but hold it without the death grip.

So enough about labels. The topic I’ve prepared for today is called Beware of the Guru Mind. What I’m trying to get at with this topic … All of this started because there was a lot of hoopla about a show that came out on Netflix called Wild Country. It’s the story of the Rajneeshees, a group that came from India following their leader, now known as Osho. At the time his name was, I think, Rajneesh. But anyway, it’s a group of kind of … I don’t know if Buddhist is the right word. They followed a lot of tenets of various religions. A lot of people would say that they were a cult. At the end of the day, what happened is you had an influx of a specific group into a small community, and it really disrupts the community. This documentary paints the picture on both sides what was happening to this small community that was being absorbed by this larger group, an influx of people who believe very differently than you.

I can see this playing out, how difficult it would be, because I live in a very small community, and we deal with the influx of people coming in from the city and building developments and homes. I hear people in the town that are frustrated with that. Their way of life is changing because of this influx of people moving in. This also resonated with me with my past, being raised Mormon. There’s a story with the Mormon community that when Mormonism was growing and spreading, they were running into this problem. They were like the Rajneeshees. They were moving into communities and then overtaking these communities because of their population growth, and the community would resent them and then want to kick them out. They were always battling this process of infiltrating communities until they finally headed west, you know, the big pioneer trek. They headed west and they established themselves in Utah.

Ironically, now, here, where the Mormon Church has a strong population, there’s also this same resentment of outside influence coming in, and if the population gets too big, then the ideas of the non-Mormons overtake the ideas of the Mormons, and then there’s this same feeling of, “Oh, no. Let’s not change things.” It’s just kind of funny.

Anyway, all of this resonated with me as I was watching this documentary on Netflix, but it really got me thinking about the concept of a guru in general. I wanted to address this on a couple of different levels. First of all, what is a guru? It’s a Sanskrit term, and it connotes someone who is a teacher, a guide, an expert, or a master of a certain field of knowledge. The word guru has all these connotations. Let’s just replace it with the word teacher, and then some of these things might make a little bit more sense. First of all, is it bad to have a teacher? Is it bad to have a guru? See, if I say the word guru … Is it bad to have a guru? Some people are probably thinking, “Uh-oh. This is cult-like language. I don’t need a guru.” But let’s replace that with teacher for a moment. Is it bad to have a teacher? No, absolutely not.

I want to give you an example of this. Some of you know, one of my favorite pastimes, one of my hobbies is paragliding and paramotoring, specifically paramotoring. Paramotoring is paragliding but with a motor on your back, a propeller on your back, that pushes you through the air. The difference is, paragliding, you have to go to the top of a mountain, a big hill, and you start up there and then you float your way down, unless you can ride thermals and stay up. If you go with a motor on your back, you don’t need to start up high. You can just find a field, a parking lot, take off from their, and you’re powering yourself. That’s one of the main differences between paramotoring and paragliding. I do much more paramotoring than I do paragliding.

When you’re learning to paramotor, if you want to go about it safely, you’re going to find a teacher, somebody to teach you how to do this. One of the first things that they do in the process of learning to paraglide or paramotor, at least with my teacher … What he did is he’ll connect you with a line to a winch, a pulley winch system that tows you. They’ll set this up maybe 500 feet away from you, or 1,000 feet away from you. I don’t know how far. I don’t remember, but you’ve got this line tied to your harness, and then there’s the parachute … the wing, actually, because it’s not quite a parachute. It’s a wing, and it’s a wing in the sense that if it has enough speed it will develop lift, so you can fly with it. A parachute is intended to control the fall. A wing is intended to actually fly.

So you’ve got this wing behind you that looks like a parachute, and then this towline starts to pull you. As it pulls you, you start running, the wing inflates behind you, it comes up over your head, and the faster that you go, you start to gain lift. So now you’ve got this rope that’s pulling you. You’ve got the parachute-looking wing … I’m just going to say wing from now on … the wing over your head, and it’s lifting you up in the sky. For all intents and purposes, you’re essentially a kite. You look like a kite. You’re being pulled, and your flying because there’s tension on this rope that’s pulling you. That forward motion gives you lift, and there you fly, and at some point, you cut the towline. You have a little pin there on your harness, you pull that lever, or you push the button, depending on the setup, line cuts from you, and now you’re just soaring, and you’re soaring on the way down.

So you come down, and that’s how you practice, right? You have a big field that tows you up, you get the feeling of what that’s like to fly, and then you cut that line, and then you soar down and then you land. You practice this over and over and over, and what you’re trying to get used to is the feeling of running and inflating the wing behind you to the point where it’s over your head, gain enough speed, and then you take off.

In this process of learning, applying this to the idea of a guru or a teacher, it was absolutely important for me to have a teacher who understood the dynamics of where I am with my skill level, and at what point is it safe to say you no longer need that towline? Now you put the motor on your back, and power yourself. I want to draw this correlation with this, because it takes skill on the part of both the teacher and also the student. When the student feels ready, the student can say, “I’m not sure I need this towline anymore. Let’s go strap the motor on my back.” The teacher needs to have the skill to say, “Yeah, I think you’re right. I think you’re ready to try this,” or, “No, let’s tow you a couple more times because I’ve been noticing you’re pulling really strong on this line, or you’re doing this or that that could be dangerous. You could get yourself into trouble.”

At some point in this process, if both parties realize the time has come, then you detach from the towline, you put the motor on your back, and you’re liberated. In a very literal way, you’re liberated. You’re free to go fly. You go fly, and you explore on your own. I think that’s one of the greatest accomplishments for the teacher at that moment is now the teacher says, “Let’s go fly. Let’s go explore. Let’s go up that mountain. Let’s fly around this lake.” Some of the most enjoyable aspects of flying for me have been in the companionship of my former instructor as a friend. Now we’re co-exploring. We go explore and fly, or whatever it is, but there’s complete liberation now. There may still be some guidance in those first months and years, where it’s like, “Hey, you’ve gotten really good, but I notice you have this tendency or that tendency.” But at some point, you become equals. You both are just pilots, and you fly.

I’ve thought about this in the spiritual sense, like with Buddhism, for example … That’s very much how it should be. The job of the teacher is to know when to cut the towline, liberating the student. I like the analogy of going from kite to bird. I’ve heard it said before that sometimes the guru … The guru can be a person. The guru can be a system. It can be an ism. It could be your belief system. It could be a lot of things, but when we create a dependency on it, that towline, so to speak, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but just imagine this as a visual. There’s nothing more sad than taking a kite that’s flying perfectly, and then cutting that rope, because the moment that you cut that rope, what happens to the poor kite? It flips and flops and comes down and lands and crashes and it’s no longer flying. It’s detrimental to the kite to not have that line.

It’s also detrimental to a bird to have the line. Let’s say you have a bird, now, and it’s up there soaring. There’s nothing more sad than the picture of a bird with a string tied to it, and it can’t escape the distance of that string. Some would say … I’ve heard it said before. “Hey, your religion, your belief system, it’s like this towline, and you are the kite. This is what allows you to fly and gain altitude and to soar there in the wind. But the moment that you detach yourself from your religion, you’re going to come crashing.”

And it’s like, okay, that’s a good analogy, in a sense, but the false assumption, for me, in my personal opinion, is this takes some skill and knowing. Am I a kite, or am I a bird? Was I a kite that just figured out, “Oh my gosh, I have wings and they flap. Okay, now I’m a bird. Now I don’t need that line.” Or the flip side, right? Maybe it’s thinking, “I’m a bird.” And realizing, “I just keep coming, crashing down. Maybe I’m not a bird. I’m more of a kite. I better find the right towline that keeps me in the wind, and keeps me soaring.”

It’s not to say that you need to be one or the other. It’s more along the lines of figuring out which one are you. Because if you’re a kite, you may want a towline. You may need that rope. If you’re not, then you may not need the towline. I encounter this all the time, because I think sometimes there’s this assumption that the concepts that I’m teaching with Buddhism, especially secular Buddhism, are an indication that the right direction is to go from kite to bird. I don’t think that that’s true. If we’re being completely honest, we all know that some people are kites. They need the line. They need the rope that helps them know what to do, what not to do, who to be like, who not to be like. Some people are birds, and the towline becomes a hindrance. Treating everybody like birds is wrong, and treating everybody like kites is also wrong.

I want to clarify that. For me, growing up, I had a towline. A very efficient towline, a belief system that was rigid. It helped me to know, go this way, don’t go that way. Do this, don’t do that. I think perhaps one of the most important aspects is it gave me a model to follow. Anyone who was raised Christian knows the expression, “What would Jesus do?” For most intents and purposes, that’s a safe bet. That’s a good example of what you should and shouldn’t do that’s going to minimize suffering for yourself and others. But it’s not always the case, and for me, this is why.

The truth of the question, “What would Jesus do?” … or apply this to Buddhism, or any other system, right. “What would the Buddha do?” … is that the answer to that question is, “I don’t know.” That’s the true answer. But the answer that most of us get, we’re getting from a guru, the guru who says, “Well, I’ll tell you what he would do. This is what he would do.” So when I am answering the question, “What would the Buddha do,” really, I am inserting the answer of what you’re telling me the Buddha would do, whoever my guru is, right? Whoever your teacher is, your priest, your prophet, your Zen master. Whoever your guru is, that’s the real answer to the question. “What would so-and-so do? What so-and-so tells me so-and-so would do.” That’s the truth, right? Because the real answer, “What would so-and-so do,” I don’t know. I didn’t know so-and-so. I don’t live in that time.

For me this becomes a really important thing when it comes to introspection. I want to know what would I do? What would I do, and why would I do it? Why would I do it, why would I not do it? Buddhism is an invitation to look inward. It’s an invitation to discover for yourself that you are the greatest guru. This is something that I really enjoy about Buddhist concepts and Buddhist teachings. When you study the life of the Buddha, and I’ve alluded to this before in the podcast, but I think it makes a lot of sense to bring this up in this specific episode, in this specific context … The journey of the Buddha as a seeker, let’s call him that … Siddhārtha Gautama, the seeker … He was seeking wisdom and advice, and he was like the kite with the string. He went from one guru, one teacher, to another, and then to another, but what was happening in this process is that he was realizing, “This can only get me so far. Having this line can only get me so high. It can only get me to this certain place.” That wasn’t enough. He wanted to understand things, to see the world differently.

I imagine, going back to my analogy as a student learning to paraglide, that the truth is the towrope phase of learning is a lot of fun. It’s like, “Wow, I’m getting towed up in the air, and I can look around. Then I come down, and I do it again and again and again.” At some point up there, you may look around and say, “Hey, this is all great, but I want to see what’s over that next hill. I want to see what’s up higher. I want to follow that river.” In the moment I decide, “That’s me,” the curious me that wants to see more, now this very line becomes my hindrance. It’s like, “Oh, now this is the thing that’s in the way.”

I think that this is what was happening for Siddhārtha. He would learn what he could, and then that was it. He needed to find more. His process, his spiritual path, takes him on this journey to the point where he finally cuts that line. In my opinion, this is the understanding of his moment of liberation. He was that paraglider pilot who said, “Okay, let’s cut the line, turn on the engine, and here I go. I’ve actually got my own propeller now, and it’s going to propel me from here.” That was really the key of his transformation, was his liberation. That’s why we call it liberation.

From that moment on, he realizes several key things. First is, “Oh my gosh. I am the source of all of it. The good deeds that make me want to be kind and compassionate, that’s me. That’s my own mind. The thoughts that make me feel anger, or hatred, or wanting to hurt someone, well, that’s also me. It’s not some external agent acting upon me. It’s internal processes that are steering me to do and feel certain things.”

Just imagine the feeling of anger, and then realizing, “Oh my gosh. This anger is fueled by fear.” That’s a radical realization that you can have about yourself. “What am I feeling, what do I say, what do I think, what do I do, and where, and why?” That leads back to further insight: “Oh, this is why I think what I think. This is why I say what I say.” I imagine that’s what that moment was like for him. The moment of liberation was this radical realization that he was the source of it all. This is what Buddhist teachings have been for me in my own life, this radical transformation of realizing, “Oh my gosh. I am at the helm, here. It’s my own mind.” Often, the detrimental things that I would say or do, they stem from my own mind.

The more I’ve learned to understand myself, the more I’ve learned to minimize that self-inflicted suffering, and the suffering that often carries over to other people. This has been a profound change for me in my own relationship with my wife, and my dynamic as a parent with kids. That’s what this has all been for me. The invitation of this episode is to look at what are the towlines? What are the lines that I’m attached to? Again, not from the perspective of, “I need to get rid of all my towlines.” That’s not what it is. Buddhism itself is a towline.

If you’ll recall, in the parable of the raft … I think this is, to me, one of the most profound teachings that the Buddha gave. He invited his monks, towards the end of his life, to understand that Buddhism itself is the raft. If you’re on one side of the shore, and you’re trying to get to the other side of the shore, he asks them, “If there’s no other way to do it, and you spend all that time and energy to build a raft, once you get to the other side, what is the wise thing to do? Keep the raft, or leave it behind?” I think anybody would have answered the same. “Well, common sense tells me I should leave it behind. If I need another one, I’ll build another one. For now, I’m headed up that mountain. This is a big, heavy raft. I don’t need it.”

Shockingly, that’s what he tells them. Essentially, these teachings, the dharma, that’s the raft. You can make the raft your obstacle. I think this carries over in our day. It’s like saying, “Hey, Buddhism teaches all these incredible things, but be careful, because Buddhism can also be the obstacle. It can be the very raft, the thing you attached to, and now that’s the thing that you carry around.” When I’m thinking of these towlines, what are the towlines that I have, again, it’s not from the perspective of, “I need to cut everything off everywhere! Drop all my isms! Leave my religion!” Don’t be drastic. Look at everything. Look at your life from the perspective of, is this a skillful line? Yes. Then stay on it. Is it skillful to cut it? Maybe, or yes. Okay, well then cut it. The answer may be no. Nobody can answer that for you. That’s the thing, here.

At the end of the day, the guru can give you advice, but, like if you were ever to take lessons paramotoring, that line that’s up on your harness? It’s you that hits the button and detaches from the line. It can be done down at the bottom, but then the line dangles, right? That’s for safety purposes, they do that. What I’m trying to get at is working with a teacher can be very powerful, but if that teacher sets you up in a position to where you become dependent on him or her, then now it’s detrimental. Maybe it won’t be, but at some point it will be, because the nature of this path, of Buddhism, is a path of liberation. If you find a teacher on this path, a guru … I like the word teacher better, but just somebody who guides you, and their intent is saying, “Now you need to depend on me, because I am the source of interpreting all this stuff for you,” then beware.

When I say beware, I truly want to make this pointed towards yourself. It’s not beware of that teacher. It’s beware of yourself thinking, “Do I really need this? Do I need a teacher?” I think I mentioned it before, but the invitation here to beware of the guru mind, it’s an invitation to look inwards. Who is the one looking for the guru? I’m less concerned about the guru than I am about the me that thinks I need the guru. Who’s that? Who’s the one looking for the guru? Buddhism always tries to point things back towards you.

At some point in Siddhārtha’s quest, he was confronted with this very question. “Who’s the one looking for the guru?” He found that one. When he found the one looking for the guru, he didn’t need the guru. He became his own guru, his own teacher. I cannot stress this enough. This is one of the potential consequences of studying this stuff is, you’ll discover that you are your greatest enemy and your own best friend. It’s you. That’s the moment of liberation.

That was the topic I wanted to share today: Beware of the Guru Mind. The mind that seeks the guru. Again, I’m not alluding to gurus are bad, teachers are bad, isms are all bad, whatever your religious system is, it’s bad. I’m not saying that. I’m saying there’s a careful balance between that realization of, “I am a kite, and I need this line,” and “I am a bird, and this line is hindering me.” Extending this same wisdom to your family and friends … I see this all the time in the world where I am, the community where I live. People will leave a religion and then say, “You need to leave it, too.” Or people who are in the religion will talk to someone who’s left their religion and say, “You need to be in it.” What you’ve got is kites talking to birds, and birds talking to kites. It’s not helping. That’s not going to do anything.

This is not about deciding what’s best for you. It’s about me, as the student, saying, “What I’m learning here, I still need this towrope. Maybe I always will. I don’t care to see what’s on the other side of that hill. I don’t want to follow this river. I just want to be towed here and soar in the air. I love this towline.” That’s a legitimate place to be. But it’s also legitimate for the one with the personality to explore that says, “Well, this towrope … I don’t like it. I want to be cut loose, and I want to fly a little bit and see what’s over there.” You may fly over there and decide, “You know what, I don’t like this exploring stuff. This is kind of scary. I’m going to come back, and let’s just attach to that towline, and I’ll stay here and soar like a kite. That could happen.

There’s not a right or a wrong way to be. There’s a skillful and a non-skillful way to be. The only way to know which was is skillful for you is to have a greater understanding of yourself. Again, this is the quest. Who is the one seeking the guru? That’s who you should be seeking, the one that’s doing the seeking, because that points everything back to you.

That’s the topic I had prepared for today. Hopefully, some of that makes sense. I know sometimes these concepts get a little … I don’t know. I don’t know what the right word is, but they can be hard to understand, because people will listen and say, “Well, I just want to know, do I do this, or do I do that? Do I follow someone? Do I not follow someone? Should I believe? Should I not believe? Should I have a teacher? Should I not have a teacher?” There’s not an answer to any of those questions. Again, point it inwards. Who’s the one who’s looking? Seek the one who’s seeking. There you will find all the insight you’re looking for. When you seek the one that’s seeking, you look inward.

That’s my invitation for today, following on my invitation of being Earth Day. Try to see yourself for a little bit as just an Earthling. You and every other creature on this planet, we share that in common. This is our home. This is our pale blue dot, as Carl Sagan would say. This is our home. What can we do to be more skillful in how we deal with each other with our ideologies, our beliefs, our opinions, our political views? Whatever it is, at the end of the day, we’re just Earthlings, and we’re all here. We’re all trying to figure it out. We’re all just trying to make this work. How can I be more skillful in that process from my little corner of the world? That’s my invitation to you.

That’s the topic I have for today. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others. You can always write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you’d like 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 the podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the donate button. That is all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you. Until next time.