59 – Escape Into Discomfort / My Interview with Shinzen Young

In this episode, I am sharing the audio from an interview/discussion I had with Shinzen Young on the topic of “Escaping into Discomfort”. This interview was streamed live on November 16th, 2017.

Links Mentioned in the Episode:

Home Practice Program
Life Practice Program
Brightmind app

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Noah Rasheta:                      It’s sending it off into space or somewhere.

Shinzen Young:                    Webinar is now streaming live on Facebook.

Noah Rasheta:                      I still think it’s … It’s just really cool that we have the ability to do something like this, to stream live.

Shinzen Young:                    It’s a real boon to spreading the meditative path on this planet.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, it really is.

Shinzen Young:                    [00:00:30] I sort of compare it to the existence of Koine Greek that’s allowed Christianity to spread because people could all read the New Testament because that was a kind of universal language for the Mediterranean region. Now we’ve got a universal language for the whole planet. It’s the internet and so many people speaking English, this is our way to spread the good news, so to speak.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. [00:01:00] Okay, it looks like people are jumping in already, so this is going. Let me post it to one more group. Okay, got that on there. Okay, we’ve got almost 50 people watching already. [00:01:30] Alright, one last post and I’ll be good to go. Where are you located [crosstalk 00:01:42]?

Shinzen Young:                    I live in the city of Burlington, Vermont in northern New England.

Noah Rasheta:                      Okay.

Shinzen Young:                    Although I’m originally from SoCal. I’m an LA boy.

Noah Rasheta:                      Okay, I was gonna say, for some reason I thought you were …

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah, I’m actually [00:02:00] second generation born in LA, but I’ve lived in New England for over two decades at this point.

Noah Rasheta:                      Cool. Okay, now we are completely rocking and rolling. We’ve got people joining from all over the place, so to those of you who are joining, welcome. Thank you for your patience. The first few minutes is usually just awkward silence or filler talk while I post these links to the various [00:02:30] groups, but I’m really excited to have Shinzen Young joining me today for Secular Buddhism Podcast interview/discussion and so this audio will be available on the podcast later this week. The video is streaming live as you are well aware, and this will also be posted to our YouTube channel.

Shinzen Young:                    Hi everyone. Welcome.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you for taking the time to join today, Shinzen. [00:03:00] I have to say, I first came across you through podcast listeners and friends who are taking courses in meditation and your name kept bouncing up, so I started researching you and thought it would be cool to have you on the podcast, but I can’t remember exactly how that part came. I think an email came from you first. I thought, “Oh, this is Shinzen Young.” By then I had already heard of you and had looked at your book, [00:03:30] The Science Of Enlightenment, so it was good timing and I thought, “This would be great to have Shinzen on the podcast,” so thank you for reaching out.

Shinzen Young:                    Sure, my pleasure.

Noah Rasheta:                      Now, I’m gonna read the quick bio I have. This comes right from your website, but just this is for those who are watching and listening. “Shinzen Young is an American mindfulness teacher and neuroscience research consultant. His systematic approach to categorizing, adapting [00:04:00] and teaching meditation, known as unified mindfulness, has resulted in collaborations with Harvard Medical School, Carnegie Melon University and the University of Vermont and the burgeoning field of contemplative neuroscience. If I understand correctly, your interest in mindfulness, or, I guess all things Eastern start at the age of 14 when you decided to attend a Japanese [00:04:30] ethnic school in your native city of LA.

Shinzen Young:                    That’s right.

Noah Rasheta:                      Tell me a little bit about your story. In your own words, how did you get into this? How did you start practicing and then ultimately teaching mindfulness and Buddhism?

Shinzen Young:                    Sure, well, I was born in LA. My family of origin is Jewish and I did actually have a Jewish upbringing. I went to synagogue and so forth. I had a very charismatic [00:05:00] rabbi and I think that was a little bit of a role model for me at an early age, but when I was in my early teens, my best friend in what was then called junior high school, now called middle school, just happened to be a third generation Japanese American. We shared some interest. Nothing related to Japan, really, but his family used to go see Japanese movies once a week to sort [00:05:30] of keep in contact with the heritage, and they invited me one week to go with them to watch Japanese movies at a little theater in downtown LA which I had no interest in, whatsoever.

I didn’t want to be rude, so, okay. It’s gonna be boring, it’s got subtitles, it’s hard to follow, but anyway, it was a double feature. The first movie was a love story set in [00:06:00] modern Tokyo and predictably, I was completely bored. The second one was a samurai movie set in 16th century Japan, and in the first three minutes, I was mesmerized. Just mesmerized. I’d never had contact with another culture, [00:06:30] other than maybe the Jewish culture, relative to America, but this was an Asian culture and an Asian culture of many centuries ago. I remember thinking, “Well, these people are obviously human beings, but they, in some ways, might as well be extra-terrestrials.” They’re just so different in every way imaginable. How they dress their hair and how they walk and the men talk [00:07:00] like real macho from their belly and the women talk real feminine. There’s sexual dimorphism in the Japanese language.

There were very cool ways of fighting that I’d never seen. Two-handed sword combat, and then values that were, to me, just over the top, like there was this one scene where the samurai [00:07:30] sort of defeats this other samurai, and the subtitle just said, “You’re a samurai, you know what to do,” and the guy just whips out a knife and cuts open his belly because he got defeated. It’s like what the hell is this world, that someone could do that without a second thought? Just being prompted like that. It’s like, whoa. [00:08:00] This is a really, really interesting world. After that movie was over, I pummeled the parents of my friend, like, “Why did they do that? I heard this word that sounded a little bit like this. What did that mean?” I never encountered a non-Indo-European language. Well, other than Hebrew, but this was really different.

They took me out to J-Town, Little Tokyo. [00:08:30] Japanese-Americans used to call it J-Town. So, you go to Chinatown. There’s nothing very mysterious in Chinatown. People have been going to Chinese restaurants, non-Asian people have been going to Chinese restaurants for a hundred years, but at that time, and we’re talking about not that long after World War II. I’m older than I look. There were only Japanese and Japanese-Americans in Little Tokyo. I was the only white bred, and [00:09:00] most non-Asians did not know anything about how to order Japanese food, so they initiated me, and this became a thing. Every week I’d see Japanese movies with them, pummel them with questions, and then they would take me out to eat Japanese food, taught me how to eat with chopsticks, which was a rarity at that time. Most non-Asians didn’t know how to do that.

It seems funny now. The culture is so caught up, but I can assure you that the [00:09:30] United States of the 1950s was not very sympathetic to Asian culture. I was this oddball with this interest, and eventually I found out there’s Japanese ethnic school. It’s like Hebrew school for Jewish kids, except it’s for Japanese-American kids. It meets in the afternoons all day on Saturday. You go to American public school but then your parents make [00:10:00] you go to Japanese school, so I decided to go to Japanese school. By the time I graduated from Venice High, I also graduated from Sawtelle Japanese Language Institute and I had had the incredible privilege of growing up bilingual and bi-cultural in Los Angeles, and I was the valedictorian of my class in Japanese [00:10:30] school.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow.

Shinzen Young:                    They wanted to show off this anomaly of a non-Asian person who was, at that time, essentially a native speaker of Japanese.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow. That’s fascinating.

Shinzen Young:                    That’s how it started. It was just this fascination with Asia, Japan, particularly martial arts, Asian food, and this is decades before the mainstream [00:11:00] culture of North America started to move in that direction. I thought I’d always be just this marginalized weirdo that was interested in things that most people disrespected. It’s hard to believe but I can remember when a piece of merchandise that said “Made in Japan” on it was considered schlock. There was actually a time [00:11:30] when that was a trope or a common theme in the United States. Hard to imagine, right? Because of the complete flip.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah.

Shinzen Young:                    I get to belong to this pioneer generation that can remember the way things used to be and can see the way things are now vis a vis Asian culture and Asian philosophy and contemplative practices. I [00:12:00] straddled both worlds. There’s a church father in the Christian tradition named Tertullian. Very interesting guy, and I have a lot of sympathy for him, a lot of understanding, because he was sort of in the same position vis a vis Christianity. When he was young, Christianity was a persecuted, kooky cult, but in later life, he could see the writing on the wall, that Christianity [00:12:30] was gonna take over Europe and sort of be running the show.

He has this phrase, “We who are but of yesterday are now in all your cities and camps,” so he saw that transition that as a little boy, he would’ve never believed possible. I got interested in Buddhism because it was an aspect of Asian culture, a traditional one, and I wanted [00:13:00] to know everything about traditional Asian culture, but then that led to, of course, practicing meditation and that took me in a whole other direction, but I look now and I can remember North America of the 1950s and I see what’s happening, particularly with the mindfulness movement and so forth. I find myself saying, “We who are but of yesterday [00:13:30] are now in all your therapy rooms, your board rooms, even your military training camps.” It’s amazing for me to have actually seen that transition, so it’s a little bit like Tertullian. It’s possible that these practices, not in the form of organized religion, but in the form of attentional skills with application [00:14:00] strategies.

These practices inspired by Buddhism and other contemplative traditions, it’s possible that they may become a major feature of the psychospiritual paradigm for humanity in this century, so we who are but of yesterday are everywhere now.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that, and I agree, I feel like we’re at [00:14:30] that stage where we’re seeing that everywhere. Time Magazine had on their cover, “Mindfulness has gone mainstream,” and we’re seeing so many of these thoughts from the East merging into the corporate level and to personal practice. I think it’s kind of doing what yoga did not long ago when it just kind of came and now yoga is so common. Nobody bats an eye if you talk about practicing yoga [00:15:00] and it’s exciting to see that the same thing is starting to have with practices like meditation.

Speaking of the practice part of it, something that I came across that I thought was interesting with your story was, so you start going to these retreats and you start practicing, right? Putting this into practice, and there’s one instance that I’ve read about that I thought was interesting, was a 100 [00:15:30] day retreat that you did that was in the winter, so it was cold, and you had some experiences there dealing with the cold, the towels freezing or the water. Tell me a little bit about that experience. Where was that and what was that like?

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah, people like that story. As I mentioned, my original interest was Asian [00:16:00] culture, so when the ’60s came around, there was money to study Buddhism in graduate school because we were having a war in a Buddhist country, Vietnam, and Buddhists had the political influence there, so the Congress would pay for a graduate education for a native-born American [00:16:30] to study Buddhism as a specialty. It was actually probably from the Department of Defense. It was called a national defense scholarship, so …

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 00:16:42]

Shinzen Young:                    Just like now they want native-born Americans who may be very familiar with Arabic or Islamic culture, well, there were political and military implications for Buddhism in the 60s, so Congress paid for [00:17:00] me to go to graduate school and study Buddhism, which originally I did … I should say, there were no strings attached on that money, by the way. I was never asked to do anything in return.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow.

Shinzen Young:                    Which was sort of pretty cool. I was studying it academically and I wanted to study a school of Buddhism that no Westerner had studied, [00:17:30] which at that time was unique in that regard. Well, maybe not unique but special in that regard, so I chose Shingon which is Japanese Vajrayana. It’s the Japanese analog of the practices that are so representative of Tibet. Not that it comes from Tibet, but both the Japanese Shingon and the Tibetan [00:18:00] Vajrayana practices share a common origin in late Indic Buddhism, so Vajrayana practices came into China and then were brought to Japan and preserved there as the Shingon school and then those practices also went into Tibet and were preserved there.

People were beginning to study Tibetan practices quite a bit but no one had looked at Japanese Vajrayana [00:18:30] as a scholar. You needed a lot of languages to do it and I was always good in Asian languages. I didn’t just go to Japanese school. My parents got me a Mandarin Chinese tutor and they got me a Sanskrit tutor all while I was still in high school, so my parents were terrific in that regard.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow.

Shinzen Young:                    They gave me a very enriched environment, particularly with regards to Asian languages, [00:19:00] so I had a pretty impressive repertoire of languages that I knew you would need to study Shingon, because you have to look at Sanskrit things. You have to look at the Tibetan analogs. You have to be able to read classical Chinese, classical Japanese and modern Japanese, so I thought, “Okay, I’m gonna specialize in Shingon because there aren’t that many people that have that skill set, and I’ll carve out a little bailiwick in the academic world [00:19:30] as the Western expert on this particular subset of Buddhism, but when I got to Japan, they didn’t want to have anything to do with me, basically, and all of my academic credentials didn’t mean, well, as we would say in Yiddish, didn’t mean bupkis. Didn’t mean anything, okay?

I got there and they just turned me away because they said, “This is not something that you do to decorate [00:20:00] your ego somehow, that you know something special. This is a transformative practice.” Now, if you’re willing to become a monk and follow our rules for a few years, then maybe we’ll teach you something, so it was basically my way or the highway. Certain things had happened in my life. I’d done drugs which almost everyone [00:20:30] did of my generation. That showed me that there were altered states. Also, horrifically tragically things happened to people that I really cared about and I say, “Oh my God,” what the Buddhists talk about when they talk about the noble truth of suffering. This is really relevant.

That combination of having seen some possibilities because of using psychotropic [00:21:00] substances plus the life lessons of seeing that your world can just come tumbling down in terms of conditional happiness in 30 seconds. Life is just a phone call away. It’s just an email away, and you can go from easy street to hell on Earth, which happened to people that I really cared about. THat’s sort of [00:21:30] brought … Those two things made the notion of practice real for me, so when the [abbott 00:21:38] said, “Hey, maybe we’ll teach you, just just come into the temple and just do what you’re told for a few years,” I said, “Okay.”

Finally after about a year, actually … It was starting to get really cold and he said, [00:22:00] “Okay, I’ll teach you, but it’s gonna be the old school way. It’s a hundred days in isolation. You spend it mostly in the meditation hall without any source of heat, and, oh yes, by the way, there’s this thing that we call cold water purification,” which he pointed out is actually not a Buddhist practice. It’s a Shinto shamanic practice but it had become part of traditional Shingon, [00:22:30] and so it entailed basically the equivalent of a cold shower on steroids three times a day, basically, stripping down and just pouring this stinging bucket of ice water over your naked body, et cetera.

Fortunately, before this all began, someone had begun to teach me how [00:23:00] to meditate, so I knew the difference between being in a concentrated state, what is generically, as you know, in Buddhism, called [foreign language 00:23:09]. I mean, that word can mean various things, but in its most generic sense, it just means any level of concentration. I’d had light experiences of [foreign language 00:23:22] before this, and I noticed that when I had to go through that and other physical ordeals [00:23:30] associated with this, if I stayed in a concentrated state, it was a lot less horrific and as soon as I left a concentrated state, it was untenable and undoable.

I realized, “Oh, okay, this is what a monastery is. It’s a giant feedback device.” The Christian term for what we, in Buddhism, would call [foreign language 00:24:00] [00:24:00] is recollection, meaning not to remember but to collect yourself back. [foreign language 00:24:05] Your attention is scattered. You bring it back. Well, that’s known outside of Buddhism and in Christianity it’s called recollection. Judaism and Hebrew, it’s called [foreign language 00:24:18]. In Arabic it’s called [foreign language 00:24:20], et cetera, et cetera.

Anyway, I noticed that if I maintained a somewhat recollected state during all of this, [00:24:30] there was a lot less suffering and as soon as I got scattered, there was a lot more suffering, so I realized, “Oh, it’s a giant feedback device,” and I also realized it’s a hundred day commitment and on day three I’m looking at 97 more days. I realized there’s exactly three things that are gonna happen here. I’m either going to suffer horribly [00:25:00] for 97 days or I’m gonna spend the next 97 days in a continuous state of high concentration, or I’m gonna give up and return to the states in shame and disgrace.

Because of those life experiences that I had, the choice was obvious. When I completed that hundred days, I was literally re-engineered. I went [00:25:30] in one kind of human being and came out a different kind of human being, and it was a very, very small price to pay for not just a new life but a new kind of life.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure. Yeah, I think that sounds fascinating. I think a lot of us kind of imagine a scenario like that and think, “Wow, it would be cool to go through an experience like that. It’s like a romanticized …”

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah, it sounds …

Noah Rasheta:                      … Image, right?

Shinzen Young:                    I could tell you …

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:26:00] Like [crosstalk 00:26:00] to do that but not really.

Shinzen Young:                    I can assure you that the exoticism and the romance gets old very, very quickly.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure.

Shinzen Young:                    However, here’s the thing, of course. I mean, like I say, people like hearing these stories, but the problem with telling these stories is that then people think, “Well, if that’s what you have to do to make [00:26:30] progress or get enlightenment, forget about it. I’m not up for that,” so the flip side of this kind of story, someone who consensually put themselves through an old school training like this, the flip side of this story is it is absolutely relevant to every person listening to this podcast.

It is absolutely relevant to the life of every human being, because [00:27:00] no, you might not go off and consensually put yourself in this situation, but it is highly probable that in the course of your life, you will be put into that situation and by that situation, I mean a situation of mental, emotional or physical distress or some combination thereof, whereby your only choice is to [00:27:30] turn it into a transformative, empowering experience through maintaining formal meditation or have it be horrific abject suffering that may leave you frail and disempowered, or take your life. That kind of trichotomy will be relevant to most people [00:28:00] and so knowing that there’s something between abject suffering and suicide becomes very relevant to every human being.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I think this is a great segue into the overall topic I wanted to get into with this, which is, you’re faced with a situation in this case where you are … Like you said, you’re three days into something knowing, “Okay, I have a choice for how I take the next 97 days, [00:28:30] right?” In a very real way, like you just highlighted, we are all presented with this when it comes to discomfort. I may be going through the loss of a job or a relationship that’s failing. Those are kind of on one end, right? But even the smaller discomforts of I’m in my car and here I am at the red light. How am I gonna handle the next 30 seconds? Am I going to just sit here and complain that life is [00:29:00] unfair because don’t you know who I am? I’m not supposed to be at a light, right?

It’s a similar scenario which goes back to the first noble truth, which is in life, difficulties will arise and in that moment of recognizing that we have a difficult … The situation at hand, right? There’s a difficulty that arises, what do we do now? Now what? I think this is what I like to compare with what your experience [00:29:30] is, is one example, and there are so many others, but we’re faced with this situation where we can try to avoid the discomfort, escape it. Like you said, you could’ve left and gone back. That would’ve been escaping it, or you could, as we’re calling this interview, escape into it. Escaping into the discomfort.

I’d love to talk about that now a little bit. Taking this idea of escaping into, the keyword into, right? [00:30:00] As opposed to escaping from, because I do think that our tendency in maybe … Maybe it’s human tendency, but especially in our western way of thinking, is here’s this discomfort. Let me fix it and get rid of it, which can be good, right? This is where I think science can step in and we solve and we fix things. The antibiotics are an example of that, so I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but that mindset of continually [00:30:30] trying to escape it, with some situations in life, you can’t escape the general discomfort that will arise. Let’s talk a little bit about switching that mindset from recognizing that we can escape into the discomfort.

Shinzen Young:                    Sure. Because, as you know, I have training in math and science, I tend to think like a scientist and I tend to express [00:31:00] myself like a scientist, so you’ll have to forgive that I get a little bit geeky sometimes. One of the things that you always are interested in math and science is called generalization, which means, okay, let’s look at the biggest picture possible. What’s the big picture here? The big picture … There’s a bunch of things I want to say about the big picture and then I’ll address specifically what you’re asking.

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:31:30] Okay.

Shinzen Young:                    One thing about the big picture is it’s important to know that the degree to which you are empowered by a challenging sensory experience, the degree to which a challenging sensory experience, an uncomfortable experience in [00:32:00] inner or outer see, hear, feel, the degree to which that is empowering for you is a function of two variables, not just one. One of the variables is how intense the experience is. The other variable is how much mindfulness you can maintain within that experience. There’s good news [00:32:30] and there’s other news depending on how you want to look at it.

Let’s look at the good news first. A very intense, challenging distress in mind or emotions or the physical body will bring about huge empowerment if you can bring even a modicum of concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity [00:33:00] to it. That’s my definition of mindful awareness. Concentration power, sensory clarity, equanimity. Three orthogonal dimensions working together. The degree to which you can bring those mindful awareness skills to an uncomfortable situation measures how mindful you are. If the uncomfortable situation is very big but you can maintain even a little [00:33:30] bit of mindfulness, you’re gonna get a huge transformation and empowering experience. That’s good news.

Let’s look at another good news. Let’s say that the sensory challenge is trivial. Like, you’re annoyed because you’re at a stoplight. What you mentioned. Let’s say that you have that small annoyance, minor annoyance, but you’re able to bring a huge amount of mindfulness [00:34:00] to that moment. You’re able to muster, start on a dime, see, see, feel, see, feel, hear … You notice, I don’t have to sit down and meditate with my eyes closed for 10 minutes in order to be able to monitor my sensory experience very precisely. See, see, feel.

You want to reach the point where you can start on a dime. [00:34:30] You can start on a dime with mindfulness in any situation, so a minor discomfort with huge mindfulness will empower you as much as a huge discomfort with a little bit of mindfulness, so you can look upon that as a win-win situation, so you don’t have to think it has to be something really big necessarily. It can be something small if you’re able to muster [00:35:00] a Herculean resolve to bring full awareness to it.

The other good news is with something big, you might not be able to be very mindful, but if you’re even a little bit mindful, the results are terrific. Now, if you’ve been really wise in life and you have prepared yourself systematically by having a [00:35:30] practice that involves life practice, retreat practice, working with a coach, at least one coach, you do formal practice, you do informal practice. If you have all of these elements lined up, I’ve got a article on the internet called an outline of practice where I outline the components that you need to have a practice in detailed [00:36:00] classification, but in any event, if you’ve been smart and you’ve had those things in place in your life, then when big things happen, you’ll actually be able to bring an enormous amount of mindfulness to those experiences.

What does that mean? Well, that means that even though you didn’t decide to go off to Japan and do the Samurai bootcamp/Samurai torture chamber [00:36:30] form of old school practice, you didn’t sign up for that, but you prepared yourself with a householder’s practice over the years, then when something really big happens in your life, you will go in one person and come out a different person, the same way I did, in that consensual situation, and that’s how a householder doing a relatively [00:37:00] … A regular but not big industrial strength practice … A householder doing a regular practice for a long time will have the same exact experience of empowerment as the person that goes off and does traditional training.

You didn’t go to a monastery but you prepared your mindfulness skills and techniques [00:37:30] so that when the horrific thing happened to you, you’re now ready to experience something big … A big challenge with big mindfulness, and so the monastery came to you and in a sense you were ordained and you went through traditional training and you could come out, theoretically even, an enlightened person as the result of [00:38:00] that.

I would say it’s important to realize it doesn’t necessarily have to be something big. Little things can be very significant. It’s also important to realize that if you can’t remember how to maintain a practice during a challenge, then you only need to remember one thing, which is you need to have a competent mindfulness coach on speed dial [00:38:30] that you can contact who will work with you and remind you of what you already know, or if you don’t know that, you need to find a competent mindfulness coach who will work with you and train you in what you need in order to turn the horrific challenge into an empowering experience.

Those are some general guidelines. Even a very experienced meditator may find it challenging to deal [00:39:00] with a really big situation. That’s sort of the bad news, but the good news is even a beginning meditator, if they have a personal coach that works with them interactively, even a beginning meditator can get a huge empowerment from a life challenge. This is why if you go to UnifiedMindfulness.com, you’ll see that we train [00:39:30] people … As soon as a person is a meditator, we will train you to be a facilitator. Our goal is all human beings not only practice this stuff but they can teach this stuff, so the optimal way to teach and support people so that they can transform the little and big challenges of life into these empowering growth [00:40:00] situations.

I would say the trick to the whole thing is to get a competent personal coach who works with you interactively. In any event, if you can’t remember all the things I’m about to say, which is the specific answer to your question, “How do you escape in?” I’m going to describe how you escape in, but a person [00:40:30] might forget or even if they have access to this information, they might not be able to implement it because the challenge is just to huge, so the one thing to remember is find someone who has a track record of working with people and that will take you through, will support you, so that you get MMM, maximum [00:41:00] meditation mileage from each of the life challenges. This is sort of a broad context to answer your question.

Now, to the sort of money piece or the specific answer, how do you escape into a uncomfortable experience? First thing to bear in mind is that the only way that you know you’re having an uncomfortable experience [00:41:30] is … This is gonna seem sort of stupid to say, but it’s a sensory experience. It may be triggered by an external situation. Something that’s happening in the objective world. You have an illness or there’s something in the world or in your life that you don’t like. A situation. It may be triggered by something objective in the world and maybe you can do something about that. Maybe you can’t.

If you can do something about it, fine, [00:42:00] but if you can’t, then what? Well, then you do have another option. You can escape into it. The first thing to remember is that although it may be something objective in the real world like an illness, an injury, a situation in politics or a society that won’t change for a while, it may be something real in the world and we’re not advocating that you be [00:42:30] indifferent to changing conditions, but there is also an independent dimension called escaping into the sensory experience that is caused by that condition.

Let’s say that you have physical discomfort. That’s one kind of body experience. You have physical [00:43:00] discomfort, so that’s gonna be a component of your distress. What other sensory components might be present? Well, you might have mental images triggered by that physical discomfort. You might have mental talk triggered by that physical discomfort. You might have … I’m gonna get rid of this. Sorry for that. I leave the phones on just in case. [00:43:30] Just in case there’s some problem with the broadcast, so you can reach me, but then we get these other things, so, sorry about that.

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 00:43:50]

Shinzen Young:                    What else could there be? Well, maybe you have physical pain, so uncomfortable physical sensation. You’ve got … Let me just take care [00:44:00] of this.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure.

Shinzen Young:                    Hi. Actually you are now on a podcast being viewed by several hundred people because you called me while I’m on the air. I free up at two o’clock eastern time. Try to get me later in the day then. Shoot me an email. [00:44:30] Okay. Have any message to the people on the Secular Buddhist podcast? Say what? What? Okay, I’ll tell them that. Bye bye. We’ll talk about that later.

Noah Rasheta:                      One of the unique aspects of being live. We just [00:45:00] see it all as it’s happening.

Shinzen Young:                    Let’s say it’s even worse. Let’s say all that’s going on and you’re in the hospital where there’s all these intrusive noises in the outer world. You’ve got all of these sense channels that are having uncomfortable experiences. The first thing you do is divide and conquer. You realize, “Okay, it’s coming to me through this sensory experience, [00:45:30] this sensory experience, this sensory experience,” so let’s untangle those strands. Let’s just take the simpler scenario. You are going through an emotional distress, so you’re experiencing rage or terror or grief or shame or impatience or disgust. You’re going through an emotional challenge. What are the sensory components there? Well, you might have visual thought, you might have [00:46:00] auditory thought and you have body emotions so there are just three.

You track it. See, hear, feel, so that instead of them criss-crossing and multiplying together, it’s just A plus B plus C, so you use your sensory clarity piece to untangle the strands, because if you don’t keep track of what part is visual, what part is auditory, what part is somatic, then [00:46:30] instead of 10 plus 10 plus 10, you’re gonna get 10 times 10 times 10. Separating out the components using, for example, a noting technique where you break your thoughts into visual and auditory, so see, hear, and then you’re aware of the presence or absence of body emotion.

First step is identify the sensory strands and then monitor them and untangle them, [00:47:00] noting the noting technique from the Mahasi lineage of mindfulness is very good for that kind of thing. Now what? You’ve got them untangled. The next thing you do is you unblock them. You, to the best of your ability, give them permission to expand and contract as they wish. You can read my essay on the internet. “What is equanimity?” will explain that process but the skill of [00:47:30] allowing sensory experience to expand and contract without interfering with that process, that skill I call equanimity.

With the equanimity, you unblock them. Well, it turns out that this combination of untangling the sensory strands and then unblocking their natural flow will cause the solid experience of suffering to go through a [00:48:00] phase change, which is analogous to water going from being ice to being liquid to being vapor. Essentially the degree to which you can bring concentration, sensory clarity and equanimity to that sensory experience will measure the degree to which you are fully present in that experience, and there’s a certain critical [00:48:30] value beyond which if your concentration, clarity and equanimity exceed that value, there will be a change in the experience itself that causes discomfort to no longer bother you and causes pleasure to deliver greater fulfillment. The metaphor that I would use is, chemically, [00:49:00] ice, tap water and steam, or H2O. H2O is H2O, viewed from the chemical point of view.

You can’t bathe in ice. You can’t drink ice cubes. You can’t be nurtured by drinking ice cubes. You can’t be comforted by taking a bath, or cleansed. Better metaphor still [00:49:30] by taking a bath in ice cubes, but if the ice is converted into warm water, you can cleanse your being with it, and if it’s converted into cold water, you can have a refreshing drink. It’s hard to believe that physical, emotional, mental and even [00:50:00] external sight sound discomfort could go through that kind of transformation. Especially it’s hard to believe and therefore rather amazingly that it’s true, that you do this merely by being so present with the experience that there’s no time to solidify the experience into a something and it both enhances fulfillment with [00:50:30] pleasure and reduces suffering with pain. This could be described as the process of escaping into the experience.

Noah Rasheta:                      I like that and I love the analogy of H2O is H2O, because as the composition, it’s exactly true, and yet those three, steam, water [00:51:00] and ice can seem so different from each other.

Shinzen Young:                    It’s drawing a metaphor from science. A physicist would call that a phase change. Chemically there’s no change. Pain still hurts, but when it goes into a fluid phase, it’s hurt without suffering, and in fact, hurt that tastes like empowerment. Pleasure is still pleasure. When it goes into a fluid [00:51:30] phase, though, it’s pleasure with deep fulfillment that also tastes like empowerment, so it works to our advantage both ways. It’s really quite extraordinary.

Noah Rasheta:                      I think it is important to highlight the fact that for a lot of people, the idea that pain and suffering aren’t the same thing can be revolutionary in the same way that you use this [00:52:00] analogy that if you had only known ice, if you were born on a planet where the only phase of H20 is ice, you would be shocked to see people on another planet are swimming in that stuff and enjoying the very same element that may produce so much discomfort for me in the realm with how I’m familiar with it.

Shinzen Young:                    On the frozen planet, and in fact, unless you visited the other planet, you could never understand it, because the [00:52:30] person from Earth would try to tell you about water, but when water is translated into the language of the frozen planet, the word for water means ice. There’s not a word for other kinds of water in the language of the frozen planet, so almost all human beings, psychospiritually, live on the frozen planet. The only synonym [00:53:00] for pain is suffering. There’s not another word for pain that means “pain that isn’t suffering,” and there’s not another word for pleasure that means specifically what the special fulfillment that you get by having a complete experience of pleasure, what the Tibetans call [foreign language 00:53:27], the oneness of bliss [00:53:30] and void.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I think using that analogy, I think on our planet, for some people, it’s a radical shift in perspective to think discomfort, this thing that I run from, you’re saying that I can run into it. That I can essentially become comfortable with discomfort and change my relationship with it, where we’ve been on this mindset of, “No, that’s something you need to get rid of. I never want discomfort. [00:54:00] Push it away. Do everything I can to escape it,” and then the Buddhist approach is saying, “Wait a second, that’s the very problem here, is you’re trying to run away from something that you can’t run away from, which is difficulties arise.” Discomfort is a very natural way of experiencing reality, but increasing your tolerance or the ability to become comfortable with that discomfort, well, that changes the game. That’s like this ice over here, now I’m bathing in it, or [00:54:30] it can be a steam bath too. You know?

Shinzen Young:                    Yeah. The way I would state it is a little more nuanced because we have to be careful how we language this because it can give a distorted impression to people that may not be familiar with Buddhism. Here’s what I mean. It’s important to realize that the ability to escape into discomfort [00:55:00] does not, in any way, interfere with the ability to eliminate the discomfort. They belong to independent dimensions, and neither does it, in any way, interfere with the ability to change the conditions that are causing the discomfort.

Sometimes within the Buddhist context, the way that we habitually talk about things, if [00:55:30] we’re not super careful, people get the impression that Buddhism is indifferent to changing conditions, and is indifferent to palliating symptoms, okay? Those are legitimate dimensions. If you can stay within the cannons of good character and do something to change a condition [00:56:00] that you want changed, go ahead and do it. If there’s a medication that will dull the pain and it doesn’t lead to side effects or problems, hey, go ahead, be my guest. All I’m saying is that inevitably we encounter situations that we cannot change within the cannons of what is ethically acceptable, at least for a while, [00:56:30] or in some cases, ever, and inevitably we encounter discomforts that we can’t palliate or maybe shouldn’t palliate because they’re to motivate and direct our behavior.

The ability to escape into the sensory experience associated with those kinds of challenges does not make you indifferent to the other dimensions of freedom that are available. In fact it frees up energy. [00:57:00] Sometimes the ability to escape into the emotional pain causes by a situation in the world will actually free up energy to more effectively deal with that situation, so we want to make sure that we don’t give people the impression that we’re advocating you should always just escape into discomfort and never try to change the underlying situation or that palliating symptoms [00:57:30] is for wimps or whatever.

The fact is, is that we’re merely offering to people an important fourth dimension of relief. I distinguish four forms of relief. One is, change the situation. You’re sick, cure the sickness. Another is, well, you can’t change the situation so palliate the symptoms, so we [00:58:00] give you an analgesic. Both of those are part of medicine. Now, what if we can’t palliate the symptoms? Well, the doctor’s gonna tell you, “Well, just try to ignore them and get on with your life.” Well, lots of luck with that, except if we have mindfulness skills, we can actually do that. You can implement a strategy of turning away from the discomfort using your concentration, clarity and equanimity to focus on other things.

That’s using mindfulness [00:58:30] to escape from the discomfort. That’s also a legitimate way of working, but if you can’t do that, then there’s still something you can do. That’s the deepest, most counterintuitive form of relief, which is, “Okay, we used the same skill set that we would use to focus on something restful or an anchor in the outer world to focus away from the discomfort. That same [00:59:00] skill set, concentration, clarity, equanimity, we now turn towards the discomfort. We untangle, we unblock, we escape into it.

There are really four fundamental strategies and there’s nothing to say that we can’t try to implement many of them at once, but the good news is that there is this final option. You can turn towards it in a way that you escape into [00:59:30] it. Notice for the second two options, the turn away from it and get on with your life, and turn towards it and deconstruct both of those require mindfulness skills. The first two options changes a situation or palliate the symptoms. They don’t require mindfulness skills. They’re things that everyone understands.

The bad news is most people, if they have a distress, [01:00:00] can only think in terms of changing the situation, and if the situation can’t be changed, they’re up the creek without a paddle. The good news is, even if you can’t change the situation, even if you can’t palliate the symptoms, even if you can’t turn your attention away from them, there is this other option. The wise person trains themselves systematically to be able to implement that other option.

Noah Rasheta:                      [01:00:30] I love that. Yeah, thank you for sharing that and highlighting those things. I think when I think of it, the way it makes sense to me, what you’re explaining, is essentially that there’s the feeling, the sensory experience of what is. It might be pain. It might be emotional discomfort. Whatever it is, and then almost simultaneously and often times without even knowing it, we have the feeling about the feeling, [01:01:00] and it’s inside of that second sphere that a lot of unnecessary suffering and discomfort arises that no longer has to do directly from the first experience. It’s what we’re experiencing about the experience, and I think for me, the visual of escaping into discomfort is it’s saying, “Well, there’s discomfort and then there’s immediately the discomfort about feeling the discomfort, and I’m escaping back into layer one,” which is whatever the situation at hand was, whatever [01:01:30] the original experience …

Shinzen Young:                    Yes, but I have to point out that there’s a little bit of a subtlety involved in that too.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah.

Shinzen Young:                    Because sometimes layer two, the second arrow, is so compelling that you can’t just ignore it, in which case you can escape into it by having a full experience, so there’s a deeper second order [01:02:00] of escape. A lot of times within the Buddhist context, it’s formulated the way that you’re now formulating it. There’s the first arrow and then there’s your reactions, so let’s say the first arrow is physical pain, and then your mental image, mental talk and emotional reactivity is the second arrow. While it is definitely true that if you can background those reactions and focus just on the physical pain, that [01:02:30] that physical pain will eventually break up into a kind of energy.

It is also true that if you can’t ignore the reactivity, you can untangle and unblock the reactivity, so that’s a …

Noah Rasheta:                      Would you say that it’s maybe even fair to say … You may notice this when you’re on the third, fourth, fifth, sixth arrow and that’s the one that you’re untangling in some situations. [01:03:00] Couldn’t it be that complex as well?

Shinzen Young:                    In my experience, it usually just goes back two or three. There’s something and then there’s a reaction and then there’s a reaction. Usually if you can get back to second or third order, you’re doing pretty good. Actually, there were arguments in the Yogachara school of Buddhism regarding how far back it goes.

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 01:03:28]

Shinzen Young:                    Academic arguments. [Aninda 01:03:30] [01:03:30] and [Dignaga 01:03:32] and I think Dharma [Paula 01:03:39] and one other fellow, I can’t remember now, they argued whether it goes back one, two, three or four, so I don’t know about that, but usually in my experience, if you go back a couple steps, you’ve taken care of it. There are [01:04:00] more steps behind those, but those are in subtle, subliminal activity that you’re not specifically aware of on the surface. Those deeper levels just show themselves as a kind of shimmering on your mental screen or a kind of a stirring in your mental talk space, so you typically, the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the reaction to the reaction, beyond [01:04:30] a certain level of subtlety, you don’t actually get that coming up as specific content. You get it as a kind of tug of space and you sort of penetrate it that way. This is getting a little bit technical. I’m sorry. Maybe we should take people’s questions.

Noah Rasheta:                      I was just looking through to see if there are any questions related to what we’re discussing right now. I’m not really seeing anything …

Shinzen Young:                    Well, if it’s other things, we can do that, because we’re already at the one hour point, [01:05:00] so …

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure.

Shinzen Young:                    People might have had things they’d like me to …

Noah Rasheta:                      Well, okay, so …

Shinzen Young:                    Talk about.

Noah Rasheta:                      I do have a question from one person that’s not quite related to this. Well, I guess it’s somewhat related to this. This is from Patrick. He says, “In The Heart Of The Buddhist Teaching, the book by [Tignat 01:05:22] [Hahn 01:05:22], it’s stated that the second noble truth is generally misunderstood as craving being the cause of suffering. [01:05:30] He states that it was just first in a list. Would Shinzen concur that this could be or is the case and that it is generally a misleading representation?”

Shinzen Young:                    Can’t comment because I’m not sure what the list in question is. I’d have to have some specifics on that, unfortunately. [01:06:00] Sometimes I can’t answer a question without asking questions. I don’t know what this list is. I certainly know that the … These kinds of questions, when you’re asking questions about Buddhism, I can give you, because I was trained as a Buddhist academic, I can give you some general guidelines. You want to always find out what the original term was [01:06:30] in the language. If you start debating Buddhist ideas using English translations only, you’re gonna run into misunderstandings very, very quickly.

You always want to … And of course, that requires some work and some study, so you can’t be lazy. You have to find out what the terms were, [01:07:00] so if we’re talking about early Buddhism, we’re talking about Theravada Buddhism, a Pali canon, so in the Poli canon, there is certainly the theme of the four noble truths over and over again. I should say that it probably didn’t mean noble truths. It probably meant truths realized by the nobles. [foreign language 01:07:27], which is translated “noble,” [01:07:30] is a technical term in Buddhism for anyone who has had at least the first level of enlightenment or liberation, so these are truths realized by people who are stream enterers, once returners, non-returners, or worthies [inaudible 01:07:46].

What is it that people in the [foreign language 01:07:50], that are [foreign language 01:07:51] who are noble people spiritually because of their practice? What are the truths [01:08:00] they realize? Now, if you go back to the original Pali, the words are [foreign language 01:08:06] which, translated as you wish, often translated as suffering, but that’s the word we’re talking about. Whatever [foreign language 01:08:15] meant to the Buddha or to people in early Buddhism who wrote those scriptures. THat’s the word we’re talking about. Maybe we can agree to call it suffering. The second term [01:08:30] does not … It is true, does not mean craving. The second of the noble truths is something called [foreign language 01:08:42] and [foreign language 01:08:42] means “necessary cause,” so it means a cause which if eliminated, eliminates an effect. That’s a necessary cause.

Literally, [foreign language 01:08:54] means “the origin.” [foreign language 01:08:58] means [01:09:00] “coming up” and [foreign language 01:09:02] means “come up together,” but in this case, it means, “Technically what a logician would call a necessary condition,” so the Buddha says there is suffering, there’s a necessary condition for suffering, meaning something that you can eliminate that will eliminate suffering. Now, often that is parsed as [foreign language 01:09:26], which would literally mean [01:09:30] thirst or craving, so I’m not sure what else might be on the list, but to me, the important thing is the claim that suffering has a necessary cause, that there’s something that has to be there for suffering to be there.

In other words, the Buddha is not saying that you’re going to go out and do something that’s gonna make [01:10:00] you happy because you’re enlightened as an attainment. He’s sort of saying there is non-enlightenment, and non-enlightenment has a necessary cause, and if you eliminate that, enlightenment’s just there, and then he’s saying [foreign language 01:10:17] and [foreign language 01:10:19], so there is a sufficient intervention called [foreign language 01:10:24] path which will eliminate the necessary cause, [foreign language 01:10:29], [01:10:30] for suffering, and what will arise then is a very special kind of non-suffering that he called [foreign language 01:10:41], which is synonymous with Nirvana, but literally means cessation, so there is an interesting logical structure to the four noble truths. There’s this uncomfortable reality [01:11:00] and it has a necessary condition. There’s a sufficient intervention to eliminate that necessary condition, therefore there’s a sufficient intervention to come to a state of non-problem. That’s the logical structure there.

So, what’s interesting to me is if we … Remember, I said scientists always want to generalize things. If we generalize this logical structure, [01:11:30] we have to ask ourself, whatever Buddhism says is a necessary cause for suffering and there might be more than one, okay? Might there be other necessary causes for suffering that are only known to neuroscience but bring about the same results as eliminating [foreign language 01:11:52]? Does [foreign language 01:11:54] itself, whatever … If we say that [foreign language 01:11:58] is [foreign language 01:11:58] and if we [01:12:00] say that [foreign language 01:12:01] is non-equanimity …

You do understand that my word, equanimity, is merely the training away of [foreign language 01:12:10], that’s why I put it in my formulation, so an interesting neuroscience question is, does [foreign language 01:12:20] itself have some biophysical, necessary condition underlying it? Is there something that can change in the brain which would bring [01:12:30] about exactly the elimination of [foreign language 01:12:35] with no other effects? If so, then that means that there would be some other [foreign language 01:12:41], some other intervention that, maybe it’s not a complete path as far as a human being goes, but it might be enough to bring about the liberation aspects of the practice. There’s more to this practice than liberation from the mind and body. There’s being a good person, for [01:13:00] example. That’s probably different training, but anyway, I’m sorry, that’s about all I could say about that question without further knowledge.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure. Okay, thank you. Another question that comes from Wendy, she says, “In his book, The Science of Enlightenment, I noticed Shinzen Young was not afraid to use the word God and alternatively the source [01:13:30] or origin or something. Origin of something or something. I found it refreshing and wondered how he felt when some Buddhist teachers have negative reactions to the secularization of meditation/mindfulness?”

Shinzen Young:                    Well, remember I said I had a Jewish education? One of my rabbi’s heroes was the philosopher Spinoza, [01:14:00] who was Jewish but got kicked out of orthodox Judaism because of his philosophy, but now is looked upon as sort of a philosophical hero in the world, and interestingly was one of the first people that tried to bring something of the spirit of Euclid into ethical and religious questions. A little bit like the science spirituality [01:14:30] interface that’s going on now, so one of my favorite phrases from Spinoza is three words in Latin, and they were probably the three words that got him kicked out of Judaism. The three words are [foreign language 01:14:55], which [foreign language 01:14:56], you may recognize, is the Latin word for God. [foreign language 01:15:01] [01:15:00] is not hard to guess. It’s the Latin word for nature. What does [foreign language 01:15:06] mean? Well, it means war, in the sense of call it God, call it nature, call it whatever you want, okay? He equated the nature of nature with God. He said, “Call it God, call it nature.”

So, [01:15:30] call it nirvana or call it the source or call it the true self or call it the no self or call it the nature of experience or who knows.

Noah Rasheta:                      [crosstalk 01:15:47] or oneness …

Shinzen Young:                    Maybe even the nature of nature. You can call it anything you want. What you call it is [01:16:00] not the issue. The issue is how directly you experience it, how strong your connection with it is, given all the doo-doo that’s gonna hit the fan in your life. That matters, from my perspective. The name, the philosophical formulation, how we try to describe it is pretty inconsequential, so half the enlightened people on [01:16:30] this planet call it the true self, the true witness. The other half say there is no self and there is no witness, so does that mean there’s two opposite forms of liberation or does that mean that there are different ways to talk about the same experience that may even seem to be the diametric opposite?

For people that want to think about it using the G-word in English or the D-word in [01:17:00] Latin, or the [foreign language 01:17:05] word in Hebrew, use whatever word you want. It doesn’t really matter to me. I’m comfortable with all that language. I just want to make sure you have an industrial strength experience of it. As far as secularizing Buddhism, well, I know you call this the Secular Buddhist podcast. That’s not a term [01:17:30] I personally use. I like to just speak of modern mindfulness, by which I mean broadly contemplative practice co-evolving with modern science, that the two sort of cross-fertilizing. Now, I think that that cross-fertilization can occur without in any [01:18:00] way watering down the spiritual clout or the ethical impact of the traditional practice. We just have to language things carefully and be very clear about what we’re talking about.

I have this thing I call the happiness grid, where I … It’s like a periodic table of sensory elements, except it’s a periodic table of happiness elements. There’s 20 boxes [01:18:30] on it, organized in three columns that are sort of analogous to families of chemicals in the periodic table of chemical elements, so I talked about one of those families today, which is reducing suffering, relief, and you notice I actually talked about four different ways to get relief, one of which was obvious to anyone, and one of which was not obvious to most people at all. [01:19:00] You can change conditions, you can palliate symptoms, you can turn your attention away from the symptoms or you can escape into the symptoms. Those are four dimensions of the type of happiness called relief. There’s another aspect of happiness called fulfillment.

There’s another aspect of happiness called skillful action. Mastery of your actions. That’s where ethics and character come in. [01:19:30] Then there’s another aspect of happiness that is service. That’s where altruism comes in, and then there’s another aspect of happiness, which is people are happy if they know themselves deeply. You want to know yourself at a surface level, a psychologist can help. You want to know yourself at a somewhat deeper level, a depth psychologist or a shaman can help. You want to understand yourself as a sensory system or you want to understand yourself as the nature [01:20:00] of nature, well, for those levels of self-understanding, you need concentration, clarity and equanimity skills. Now, what is traditionally called enlightenment or stream entry, in my happiness grid, is simply described as understanding yourself as a sensory system and then understanding the deeper nature of that sensory system, what the taste of pre-conscious processing is within that system.

Well, I’ve just [01:20:30] described enlightenment in a way that is not off-putting to anyone, because everyone knows that they have different levels inside themselves and most people are curious about those, and the deeper levels, the ones that entail understanding yourself as primordial perfection or the nature of nature or the source that literally just mean source. It means just before there’s conscious inner and outer, see, hear, feel, there’s subliminal processing. Before [01:21:00] you are born and the world is born, you had a face, moment by moment. That’s how the zen people describe it, and then they’ll give you the “go on, show me that” face. Manifest for me the un-struck sound, the sound of one hand clapping.

All that means is be aware of what sound sounds like just before you become consciously aware of it. Be aware of what inner and outer vision looks like just before you become [01:21:30] consciously aware of it. Well, it turns out that at the deepest level of neuronal processing, all experience, pleasant or unpleasant, inner or outer, has the same taste [foreign language 01:21:41], one taste, and all we’re doing is saying that there’s a dimension of happiness called “understand yourself.” You go to a psychologist for the surface levels of that, but with mindfulness skills, we’ll be able to show you some deeper levels.

Now, we’ve brought in classical [01:22:00] enlightenment without using the E-word, without saying anything that sounds weird to ordinary people. You want to understand yourself? You understand that there can be deeper levels of that? Well, let’s look. Once again, we brought in character not by giving people a list of specific norms right away but rather by asking people, “Are there behaviors that you would like to change?” Well, I can show you how the mindfulness skills will help you with that. [01:22:30] That opens the door to character change, so I’m gonna claim that there’s a way of formulating mindfulness that contains nothing within it that is in conflict with science and contains nothing within it that would be off putting to any major group of human beings regardless of their religion or their politics or their philosophy.

If we’re [01:23:00] smart enough, there’s a way to formulate this whole thing so that it’s accessible to most people and has the full clout of traditional practice. To me, that’s amazing and it means that if we’re very careful in how we describe [01:23:30] things and if we’re willing to think a little bit out of the box, that we can basically enlighten the world.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that and I love the description of the categories of happiness. Excuse me. So, I’m on board with you. I think this is exactly why I feel there need to be multiple [01:24:00] angles and voices explaining and understanding concepts like mindfulness, meditation, enlightenment, because we all speak different spiritual languages, kind of in the way that we speak different love languages, so I appreciate the work that you’re doing and the approach that you’re taking and the vernacular that you’re using. For someone who’s listening and thinking, “I [01:24:30] want to learn more about this. I want to read more of Shinzen’s thoughts,” where would someone go to learn about you, find your book, anything along those lines?

Shinzen Young:                    Well, it’s pretty easy. One of my life goals is to create a really convenient delivery system for the classic results, so that people that live in countries where retreats aren’t available, et cetera, et cetera, [01:25:00] that anyone on the planet can, with time, get the same results that you get from old school monastic training. That kind of delivery system is one of my life goals. This information age makes that feasible, so a little bit of searching on the internet will reveal a lot of resources, but let me just list a few things.

What do you need to be successful [01:25:30] with this practice? Well, you need to have at least one meditation technique. You need to do what I call life practice, which is on a day to day basis, do formal practice and weave informal practice into the day. You need to do retreat practice. You need to have support of at least one competent coach and a community [01:26:00] of people, and ultimately you need to give support in various ways. These are sort of the ducks that a person needs to line up and maintain for their lifetime. If they do so, they have a high probability of success with this practice.

So, in order to understand how to monastasize each day, [01:26:30] how to weave practice into the ordinary activities of life, I have a program on the internet that we call the Life Practice Program, so if you just put in my name, Shinzen Young, and Life Practice Program, that’s gonna pop up. That landing page is self-explanatory, so you can go there and that will help you do the sort of day to day practice, so it’s the Life Practice Program. Shinzen Young’s Life Practice Program. Then most people [01:27:00] cannot get away from retreats, even one day retreats. What to say residential retreats.

How do we bring retreats to the people of the world? Well, I have an idea how to do that. We pipe it to you in very manageable modules. Four hour modules. That’s called the Home Practice Program, and if you go there, wherever you may live in the world, you can do retreats without having to leave your [01:27:30] family or your work or your community, so there’s the home practice program for that component. If you want to learn techniques, I have this grid that basically covers all the meditation techniques in the world. I call it Ultra: The Universal Library for Training Attention, and if you want to learn those techniques, there’s an app that is about to be released called Bright Mind, [01:28:00] and Bright Mind … It’s self-explanatory. You just get it and you’ll learn dozens and dozens of the techniques that I typically teach people.

If you want to learn techniques and if you want to affiliate with a community and if you want to learn how to be a coach of mindfulness, you go to UnifiedMindfulness.com, Julianna Ray’s website. [01:28:30] She does my community … A lot of the community development and the training of facilitators. As soon as you learn some techniques, we will teach you how to teach others, and that’s actually one of the best ways to deepen your practice. So, you’ve got the Bright Mind app. It’s gonna be released probably within the next few days or weeks. Not quite sure, [01:29:00] but they have a website. You’ve got the Life Practice Program, the Home Practice Program, and then the hub, which is UnifiedMindfulness.com to find community and also to … That’s to get support, including support of a personal coach, and that’s also to learn to give support.

Those are the resources and I refer to my approach as unified [01:29:30] mindfulness just to have a name. The unified means that I try to point out the connections between all the different forms of contemplative practice. Not just within the three vehicles of Buddhism, but broadly including Christian, Islamic, Native American and other tribal practices. Jewish and so forth. I see the world’s contemplative traditions as a unified whole [01:30:00] and that unification can be seen by being clear about the ways in which the different approaches relate to each other. I’ve created what an information scientist would call an ontology of contemplative approaches. An ontology is like a taxonomy. It’s like a classification system, but with an added feature, that relationships between the elements are made clear.

[01:30:30] You get a unified knowledge map. That’s technically called an ontology in modern computer science information systems, so I’ve been influenced by these notions and I’ve created what I believe is an ontology of the world’s contemplative traditions. Just to have a name for it, I call it unified mindfulness. That’s sort of the moniker, and then the programs that I mentioned, Life Practice [01:31:00] Program, Home Practice Program, the Bright Mind app and Julianna’s facilitator program at Unified Mindfulness Hub, which is UnifiedMindfulness.com.

That’s the delivery system that’s a pretty inexpensive and available to anyone, but it doesn’t have to be my approaches. The elements, life practice … I’m sorry, retreat practice, [01:31:30] life practice, getting support, giving support. Those elements will be present in any organization that is teaching these things, and you find the organization that has the vibe that appeals to you and you’re good to go.

Noah Rasheta:                      Awesome. I love that, and for those how are listening live, I will be posting these links on the podcast [01:32:00] interview page, so if you’re listening later, if you’re not listening live or watching live, you’ll be able to scroll down. You’ll see an entire transcript of our conversation and I will have links at the bottom where you can find Shinzen’s book, Shinzen’s website and all of that information. So, thank you very much again for taking the time to join us, to be on the podcast to spend some time discussing these concepts [01:32:30] with me. It’s been a fun conversation. Any last goodbye to anyone listening live and then I’ll shut off the live portion of this.

Shinzen Young:                    I would say my valediction is there’s good news. You can be 10 times happier than you would’ve ever imagined with a reasonable allocation of time and energy.

Noah Rasheta:                      [01:33:00] Great. Thank you very much. Thank you to those of you who joined us live, watching this today. This will be uploaded to the Secular Buddhism podcast as audio. The Secular Buddhism YouTube channel as a video so you can rewatch it, and it will sit on our Facebook page in this same format so you could go back and rewatch anything that you may have missed, so thank you to those of you who joined us life.

Shinzen Young:                    Thank you to you, [01:33:30] Noah, for this great work. This is [crosstalk 01:33:33] …

Noah Rasheta:    Oh, thank you. Thank you.

58 – The Art of Stopping & Seeing

The Buddha told Angulimala (the murderer), “I stopped long ago, it’s you that hasn’t stopped”. The art of learning to stop….is about having the ability to pause for a moment and to shine some light on the hidden agendas that often determine why we say what we say, do what we do, and think what we think.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 58. I am your host, Noah Rashata, and today, I’m talking about The Art of Stopping and Seeing.

In episode 52, The Sound of Silence, I talked about a teaching called the three doors of liberation, and these three doors are emptiness, or non self, signlessness, or no form, and the third one is aimlessness, sometimes referred to as no goal. Today, I’d like to elaborate a bit more on this third door, the idea or concept of aimlessness.

When I talked about this in episode 52, I shared the story of Angulimala. He was the murderer who was intent on causing chaos and mayhem, and when he confronts the Buddha, the Buddha goes on as if no big deal was happening here, and he confronts Angulimala. Angulimala is wanting to chase him, but the Buddha just keeps walking like normal. He can’t believe what he sees, ’cause Angulimala is used to most people just being terrified and running from him or screaming, and the Buddha’s … I presume he’s taken back by the fact that there’s no fear coming from the Buddha, so he yells at him, and he says, “Stop!”

And this is my favorite part of the story, ’cause the Buddha, I would imagine in a calm and serene tone, just replies, “I stopped long ago, Angulimala. It’s you who hasn’t stopped.” And that’s shocking to Angulimala. He doesn’t know how to take that. Now, this is the story as it’s recounted in Old Path White Clouds, the book by Thich Nhat Hanh, but this powerful phrase, “I stopped long ago,” has really stuck with me, and this is what has motivated me to share this podcast episode, the art of stopping and seeing, and applying this thought, this … As I imagine the Buddha standing there, serenely saying, “I stopped long ago. It’s you that hasn’t stopped.” I imagine him saying that to me. What is it that I haven’t stopped. What was it that Angulimala hadn’t stopped? And that’s what I want to talk about today.

Now, part of this is inspired by a question I received from a good friend of mine, who says, “I’m not sure what you mean by sit with it with regards to specific feelings.” He said, “Can you expand on that for me?” And he also said, “I’d love to better understand the concept of suchness or oneness. I’d love to have a podcast on that in greater depth.” I hope this kind of accomplishes that, the idea of suchness, the idea of oneness, the idea of sitting with it, all in regards to this, the art of stopping and seeing.

I also want to correlate what I’m going to talk about in this episode with what I talked about in episode 51 in my conversation with Stephen Batchelor. He talked about the four noble truths and looking at these truths as four tasks, so as a quick reminder, we have the acronym E.L.S.A to help us remember these, so E is embrace the suffering or discomfort. In other words, we embrace the situation at hand. What is the situation at hand? Well, on the large scale, it’s that in life, difficulties arise. We embrace that. On the smaller scale, it’s, “Hey, I’m stuck at this red light, and I don’t want to be stuck at the red light.” I can embrace the suffering and the discomfort that I’m feeling in that moment, so that’s the first one, E.

L is for let go, let go of your instinctive reactivity to it. This includes letting go of feeling that I shouldn’t feel what I’m feeling, right? So I’m letting go. I’m just allowing … Another way to think of this is let it be. You know, let things be. I embrace the suffering and discomfort, I allow it to be what it is.

Then the third step, the S is see, see the stopping of the reactivity, as Stephen Batchelor said. This, to me, is sit with it. For me, to sit with something, to stop and see the reactivity of it is … It doesn’t mean I’m stopping my emotions. It doesn’t mean, “Okay, I’m not going to get mad.” To me, this means when I am mad, I can stop and just see that I’m mad, and stop right there. I don’t have to take it a layer deeper and realize, “Oh, now I’m mad that I’m mad.” See, that to me is not stopping, so the stopping is being with whatever arises, and if anger or sadness or a difficult emotion like that, an uncomfortable emotion like that arises, I can just be with it. I can watch it, I can sit with it.

And to me, this goes hand in hand with the concept of suchness. It’s that I can see things as they are. I can see my emotions and my feelings as they are, not as I think they should be, because it’s in that realm of how I think things should be that I run into trouble. In other words, the feeling of the feeling, so I’m sitting with the feeling, whatever that feeling is, pleasant or unpleasant, and that’s suchness. Life, to experience suchness is life is to experience life as it is, not as I think it should be, but just see it as it is. Suchness with other people is allowing someone to just be who they are, and to, for a moment, pause and not have the who I think you should be competing with the who you are, okay? And I can do this with myself as well, sense of suchness would be, “I’m allowing me to just be me, and not competing in that game of who I am and who I think I should be.”

So oneness is being with the present moment, just as it is, becoming one with it, accepting it, not dwelling in the way that I think it should be, but accepting the present just as it is, and I talked a little bit about this idea of should in the last podcast episode, and I’m going to elaborate on that again in this episode as well. So all of that is the third step of the four noble truths, or the four tasks. This would be the third one, seeing, seeing the stopping of reactivity, which is essentially the overall topic I want to talk about today.

And the fourth one, the A in E.L.S.A., the last A … Oh, I guess the only A, is act skillfully. The idea is that when I can embrace the suffering or discomfort, I can let go of the instinctive reactivity I have to it, in other words, the desire or the aversion, desire for the pleasant, aversion for the unpleasant, I can see the stopping of the reactivity. In other words, I learn to sit with it. I can be with whatever it is I’m experiencing, even if it’s uncomfortable. Then, I can act skillfully, so this is like what comes next, right? Whatever I’m going to say or do or even think is going to be more skillful now because of these tasks and the way that I work with them.

I want to correlate all of this, again, to that third door of liberation, aimlessness, that I talked about in episode 52, The Sound of Silence, so the third door of liberation is aimlessness, and is correlated to the third noble truth, stopping and seeing, and correlated to the story of Angulimala, when the Buddha says, “I stopped long ago.” I want to correlate all three of these ideas in what I’m going to talk about next, so here we have something really powerful. To me, very insightful is the ability to stop and see.

The idea here is everything that we do, everything that we say and do, is motivated by intent. You could say there’s an agenda behind it, right? Think about this. There’s an agenda to everything that you say and do, there’s a reason why you’re saying it and doing it. Now, these aren’t normal agendas. Unfortunately, they’re typically hidden agendas. There are ulterior motives to what we say and what we do. We’re usually saying and doing things for a reason. There’s something we’re trying to get out of it, and most of the time, I would daresay we don’t even know why. We don’t understand the motive behind a lot of what we say and think and do, and I think there’s a deeper form of introspection here, because it’s not just what I say and what I do, it’s also what I think. The very thoughts that arise and seem so random or just natural, this thought just arose, there’s generally an ulterior motive to where these thoughts are coming from.

Now, from an evolutionary standpoint, we’re driven by motives. I’ll address this, I think, towards the end, but the … Aimlessness means that you don’t put anything in front of you as the object of your pursuit. In other words, what you are looking for is not outside of you, it’s already here inside. For example, you already are what you want to become, so concentrating on aimlessness, what it does is it releases your longing and craving for something in the future, or something that’s somewhere else, and one powerful way of working with the idea of aimlessness is to ask yourself, “What is my aim?” Or “What is my goal?” There’s a lot of insight to be had with this introspective process, to say, “Why am I doing what I’m doing? Why am I saying what I’m saying?”

And like I mentioned before, at the deeper level here, you can actually explore this with your thoughts too, “Why am I thinking what I’m thinking?” Somebody does something or says something, and you immediately create a thought around that. “Why am I thinking that? Where is this coming from? Why do I think this person is doing this or saying that?” So there’s a lot to work with here. Also feelings, “Why am I feeling what I’m feeling?” And you’ll discover that under everything we say, everything we do, everything we think, there’s an agenda, like I said, often a hidden one, an ulterior motive.

For example, you can see this in nature. What it looks like on the surface is, “Oh, that bird is showing its feathers and doing this strange looking dance for this other bird.” That’s … What’s the agenda behind it? “Oh well, this bird is trying to attract a mate.” Oh, okay. So that’s what I mean by this. There’s always an agenda to the things that we do, so we’re trying to gain a better understanding into the nature of our own minds. Why do we say and do and think the things that we do?

The art of learning to stop is about having the ability to pause, even if just for a moment, and to shine some light on the things that we’re doing, the things that we’re saying, the things that we’re thinking, and to sit with an emotion, and to just observe it. Anger, for example, is one of those emotions that’s very difficult to sit with, because we feel the need to do whatever we can to push it away, to distract ourselves, say something, do something, think something, to alleviate the discomfort that we’re feeling due to the emotion that we’re experiencing.

Same with sadness, and the point of this stopping and seeing isn’t to stop what we’re experiencing. It’s to understand in greater depth what it is that we’re experiencing. It’s to be able to catch ourselves and say, “A-ha! You rascal you, I know what you’re doing. I know why you’re doing this. I know why you’re saying this, or I know why you’re thinking this,” to ourselves, and to understand, “Ah, this is why I’m doing this.” Here’s the hidden agenda, and see through that. It’s no longer hidden. We shine light on it.

And there’s a lot of power in that, the ability to understand ourselves, to have … There’s real power in knowing what the agenda is behind a lot of what we say and think and do, so the overall idea with this is that, what if we’ve been running our whole lives instead of living it, because of what we’re chasing. We’ve been chasing after things, things like happiness, love, success. In Buddhism, even enlightenment falls into this category, and there we are chasing after it, and in this process of running, we’re not living, so what if, by understanding the object of our pursuit, then we can remove it, and then we’re left with just living? That’s the idea behind suchness.

So here’s the tricky part of these hidden agendas. They’re often, like I said, hidden not only to others, they don’t know why we’re saying or thinking or doing what we’re doing, but a lot of times, they’re hidden from us. We don’t even understand it, and if we’re completely honest with ourselves, we’ll find that we really don’t know why we say or think or do some of the things that we say and think and do, and it’s a lot like that rider analogy that I often use with the horse, that you’re riding on this horse, and it’s just running at full speed, and if someone were to ask you, “Where are you going,” the honest reply would be, “I don’t know. Ask the horse.”

Well, that’s the thinking that’s going on here is that, if we’re completely honest with ourselves, a lot of times, we don’t know why we say or think or do the things that we’re doing, because the honest answer would be, “Ask the horse. Ask the emotion that’s driving it. Ask the agenda. Ask the ulterior motive that I’m not even aware of.” This insight that we’re trying to gain is to help us to stop, to stop running, and when the Buddha told Angulimala, “I stopped long ago,” I like to believe he was referring to his moment of enlightenment, the moment he looked inward, the moment he became perfectly aware of his own hidden agendas. He saw the proverbial rascal within, and said, “A-ha! I see you. I see you there.” He gained insight into the nature of causality.

In Buddhism, this is often referred to as karma, cause and effect, the law of dependent origination, which is to say that this is because that is. In other words, I’m saying this because of that, or I’m doing this because of that, or I’m thinking this because of that, so our quest is, what is the that? What is the that that’s behind this? This is a big question, because that’s what I think he stopped and saw when he says, “I stopped long ago.” This is what Angulimala was not able to see in himself in that moment. Why are you doing this? Why are you running around killing people? And once he understood the causes behind his thoughts and actions, he became enlightened, just like the Buddha, and that’s what the story goes on and says, that Angulimala did eventually realize this, he stopped being a murderer, he became a monk, and that’s a whole story, but I think that’s what’s trying to be taught there.

Now, to me, like I’ve said many times before, this is not a mystical or supernatural process. This is literally shedding light on our motives and intents, understanding what’s going on behind the thoughts and the actions and the words. This is the moment that we stop chasing after the object of our pursuit because we start to understand that it’s not going to get us what we think we really want. Even enlightenment, it’s like, “Okay, well then, you’re enlightened. Now what? So what?”

This idea is like understanding that a wave doesn’t have to be stressed about going and discovering what water is or where the water is, because it is the water. In the here and now, it’s already it. This is like a rose not having to be stressed about the fact that it’s trying to be more like the lotus. It’s already what it is, it’s a rose, and it’s beautiful. It’s a beautiful manifestation of the cosmos just as it is. It doesn’t need to be any different.

And like I talked about in last week’s podcast episode, there are no shoulds. There’s no … Life is just what it is, and it’s perfectly fine the way it is. And sure, there are a lot of coulds, how things could be, and there’s a lot of opportunity and hope, and in the way that we can interact with life as it’s unfolding, to move it towards how things could be. That’s all legitimate, and I’m not saying that we just become content and, “Oh well, now I’m not changing life, because there are no shoulds.”

What I’m saying is life could be this way, it could be that way, but that, to me, doesn’t feel anywhere near the same as it feels when I’m thinking, “Here’s how life should be,” because there is no should, and you, as you’re listening to this, you are the manifestation of the cosmos, in the same way that a rose is. You’re wonderful just as you are, and if you think about it, it’s taken every single thing that’s ever been for you to be here and now, just the way that you are, and sure, you could be another way, but you shouldn’t. There’s no should there. It’s not that you should be another way.

And this, I think, correlates with another common question I receive from people. It’s, “How does Buddhism or mindfulness help with X-Y-Z situation?” For example, PTSD or traumatic experiences or past events that now cause deep pain or fear. For example, an abuse in the past or something like that, so what this is saying, in this context, it’s not that, “Oh, Buddhism fixes this or that.” Or, “Here’s how it solves it.” It’s saying there’s nothing to solve. Buddhism is a light that shines on things to give us more clarity into the nature of that thing, so in that sense, it’s not that there’s something to fix. It’s trying to say, “Here’s what is, and you can gain insight by seeing this more clearly, understanding the nature of impermanence, the nature of interdependence, and starting to see these things in life or what they really are.”

But it’s not saying, “Oh, here’s why you do this, ’cause this will fix this, and then …” That’s implying you shouldn’t have PTSD. Again, going back to this, there is no should. You do have it. It’s what you’re experiencing, so let’s understand it with more clarity. “Oh, okay. Well, this is why I’m experiencing this. Well, why is that traumatic? Oh, well it’s because of this.” So you’re constantly shedding more and more light on the understanding, but never with the intent of saying, “Okay, because I did all that, now it should go away.” There is no should there. It’s just, “Well, this is what is.” If you’re experiencing it, look at it closely.

Again, with emotions, it’s the same thing with emotions. People will be like, “Well, I thought the point of Buddhism or practicing mindfulness was so that I could get over my anxiety.” Well, no, that’s a should. We’re going back to, if you’re experiencing it, let’s look at why. Now, life can change it, because the nature of life is that it’s impermanent. Things are always changing, so one day, I may be experiencing it. The next day, I’m not, but the point wasn’t to get from point A to point B, experiencing anxiety to not experiencing anxiety. It may arise again.

I feel like mindfulness practice in my own life helped me to get rid of anxiety at a stage in life when I was experiencing anxiety a lot. I don’t know if it’ll ever come back. I don’t know that it will. I see life quite differently than I did when I was experiencing it, but I don’t sit here thinking, “The point of this is to ensure I’ll never feel that again,” because that’s just not true.

I think we have this fear that if we approach life with this attitude of being aimless, that we’re not going to get anywhere, because the point is you’re supposed to be somewhere, but if you think about this closely, that’s actually impossible. You can’t not be … You can’t not get anywhere, because you are somewhere. You will always be somewhere. You are always going to be wherever you are. Where you are is somewhere, and again, think of this in the context of could or should.

The thought that I should be over there, “I’m here but I should be there,” versus the thought that, “I’m here and I could be over there.” I don’t know about you, but to me, those two approaches feel very different, because one implies possibility. The other one implies almost this sense of, I don’t know, “I deserve to be there. I’m not supposed to be here.” This sense of entitlement, I think, is the right word, and the truth is, I am where I am. That’s where I’ll always be. Doesn’t matter where I am, I will always be where I am.

So for me, it’s one thing to start asking myself, “Where am I going in life?” But it’s a whole nother thing to be able to just stop and understand, “Why do I think I need to be going where I think I’m going? Why do I think I need to be over there?” It doesn’t mean that I should or shouldn’t be over there. I’m just saying, why do I feel the need to be over there? I could be there, sure, but why do I feel like … Why is there this sense of, “I should be there?” That’s what I want to start looking into. The art of stopping and seeing is about analyzing the shoulds in our life, because that’s the conditioned mind that’s speaking. There’s a conditioning behind that thought, and it’s the conditioning that makes me think in, what I would say, should mode, and I think Angulimala was operating in this mode.

He was on this path of destruction, his conditioned mind had him operating in that should mode. “I should be killing,” and that’s probably because he was very angry or hurt, “Because I’m so hurt and I’m so angry, I should take it out on someone and kill them.” I don’t know his motives, but I’m thinking of something along those lines. He hadn’t stopped to understand the agenda that was driving his actions. He may have been able to have stopped at some point and thought, “Oh, I’m very angry. Okay, well that’s what’s motivating me. That’s the agenda. Well, why am I angry?” The agenda has an agenda, right? So this is the clarity that he was finally able to gain through the Buddha’s wisdom that came about in that abrupt presentation of the scenario, “Hey, I stopped long ago. It’s you that hasn’t stopped.”

I imagine Angulimala was confused, and thought, “What are you talking about? What do you mean, I haven’t stopped?” And that moment of introspection and insight led to an entirely new path that he was on. He quit his path of murder, not because he felt that he should, but because he was able to see that he could, he could go through life not being a murderer. That was a possibility. He didn’t have to be compelled to stop like, “Hey, this is morally wrong.” And I’m not saying that it is or it isn’t. What I’m saying is, it wasn’t the compelling that made him stop, like, “You need to stop murdering!” “Okay, fine.” That wasn’t it. People had been trying that all along.

What he was able to gain was insight into the nature of things, and the skillful thing for him to do at that point with that awareness was to not do what he was doing, so he pivoted in life. He headed in a new direction, and that is what starts to happen with us, when we walk through the doors of liberation, when we extinguish notions, we stop and we just see things as they are, behind the stories, behind the meanings, the labels that we add to them, and we see things like our habitual reactivity in connection to our hidden agendas, our ulterior motives, and we start to see there’s no longer this need or this fear of not becoming who I think I’m supposed to be. You’re just left with peace, this peace and calmness in resting in the fact that I am just fine just the way that I am, where I am, and then I see possibility opening up. This is how I am, but this is how I could be. Maybe I’ll try that.

It’s like when the wave knows how to rest in the fact that it is already the water, the wave enjoys going up and enjoys going down. The ups and downs, right? The wave’s no longer afraid of being or non being, life or death, what’s happening now, what happens later, there’s no fear in any of that anymore, because the fear of coming and going, the wave has seen that the wave is the ocean, and this to me is the art of stopping and seeing.

To me, when the Buddha said, “I stopped long ago,” he didn’t mean he had given up on life, or that he has resigned to life as it is. In fact, from that moment on in the story, his enlightenment, he worked really hard for many many years, from his 30s to his 80s, worked pretty hard on building up a community, building up a way of life that was beneficial to his society, teaching, traveling, there was a lot.

There was no resignation at that point, but there was the ability to stop and see and understand, “Why am I doing what I’m doing?” I think that’s what he was able to answer about himself, and the goal of that process isn’t for us to say, “Well, I want to know what he saw so that I can …” No, what he’s trying to say is, “Point that to you. You do the same, like Angulimala did. Stop and see.” It doesn’t mean we’re going to no longer have goals. It means we can have a much more clear understanding of why we say the things we say, do the things we do, think the things we think, feel the feelings that we feel, and that’s personal insight. That’s on you.

Your stopping and seeing will reveal something incredibly profound about you that only you can see. I cannot give that to you. I can’t say, “Hey, stop and see. Here, let me tell you this is what you’re missing.” I can’t do that. You can only do that with yourself. This is one thing I love about the Buddhist path is it’s a very personal path. It’s your path, and when you stop and see, you’re going to see something that only you can see.

From the Buddhist perspective, we often talk about interdependence, the fact that all natural phenomena has causes and conditions, and this implies that the causes and conditions also have causes and conditions, and to me, this understanding of causality implies, like I mentioned before, that even my hidden agendas, the ones I’m not aware of, or the motives behind the things that I say and I do, also have motives, so the motives have motives.

The agendas have agendas, and I think from an evolutionary standpoint, I mentioned this at the start of the podcast, one of our core motives that I think is really helpful to understand, is the motive to affiliate and bond with each other, the motive to belong. Our desire to belong seems to be a primitive survival mechanism, and we do things in order to belong, and we avoid doing things that we think will jeopardize our sense of belonging, and for me, it’s been interesting to explore my own agendas and to find that, often, the agenda behind the agenda is this need to belong. It’s this core need to not jeopardize my belonging, and to strengthen my belonging.

And again, I think the idea of understanding all of this isn’t just to try to reconfigure myself and suddenly no longer be how I am. The idea here is that, through understanding the nature of my own mind, I can become more skillful in how I navigate this experience of being alive, and I can work towards eliminating the unnecessary suffering, the self-inflicted suffering that I cause for myself and others when I’m unskillful in the things that I say or think or do.

So that’s the goal of this podcast episode. To be able to engage in the art of stopping and seeing, I hope, will give you that opportunity to see something in yourself, to see the agenda, to see the agenda behind the agenda, and to become more skillful in how you navigate life. I hope that, in the stopping and seeing, there’s the ability to realize, “Maybe I’ve been running after something, and in the process of running, I’m not living. This is about stopping and seeing that I can just live now, the way that I am now is fine. Sure, I could change and be more … harder worker or drink less or …”

Those are all coulds, but those are not shoulds, and when I can explore this in the context of could versus should, like I talked about in the last episode, then I start to gain more insight. I start to experience this ability to sit with things, to just be with life as it is, to be with you as you are, to be with me as I am, and in that process, overall, I’m eliminating or at least minimizing the unnecessary suffering for myself and others, and I hope that’s what you can accomplish, and what you can see, and what you strive to, not because that’s how it should be, but because that’s how it can be.

And I think that’s all I’ve got for now. I appreciate you taking the time to listen. I hope some of this information can be useful to you on your own journey of learning to stop and see, learning to just live instead of chasing the feeling of living, just stop and live, and I hope that the story of Angulimala resonates with you the way that it did with me. Like I’ve mentioned before, it’s been a scene that’s just prevalent in my mind. I’m seeing that moment, the shock and awe that Angulimala must have felt when the Buddha wasn’t scared of him, and just said, “Hey, I stopped long ago. It’s you who hasn’t stopped.”

I hope you can stop and ask yourself, “In what way can I stop?” Or, “Why have I not stopped? What is the object of my pursuit, and why am I chasing it? If I finally get what I think I’m going to get, then what? If I’m here and I want to be there and I finally get there, then what?” This is where that quote that I really like is. Sometimes you get there and you realize there’s no there there, because wherever you are, there’s another there, so stopping and seeing is about the present moment. It’s about here and now. This is where you are, this is how I am. What can I do with that? What insight can I gain from seeing that, if I can stop?

So if you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others, write a review, give it a rating in iTunes, but also let me know what you think. We have an online podcast community, the Secular Buddhism podcast community is a Facebook group. We can discuss things there. You are also welcome to join our Weekly Sangha, where we discuss topics from the podcast, and just, in general, practice mindful living as a group. You can join that online community by visiting secularbuddhism.com/community. If you would like to make a donation to support the work that I’m doing with this podcast, feel free to visit secularbuddhism.com and you can click the donate button there.

And that’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thanks again for listening. Until next time ..

57 – Why Do We Experience All-Pervasive Suffering?

Why is it common to have that nagging feeling that things aren’t how they’re supposed to be? Do you ever feel like life is not how it’s supposed to be, others are not how they’re supposed to be or that you yourself are not how you’re supposed to be? In this episode, I will talk about the 3 types of suffering and specifically the 3rd type: all-pervasive suffering. I will talk about where it comes from and how we can begin to understand it better and work with it.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Noah Rasheta:                      Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 57. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about all-pervasive suffering, what is it, and more importantly, how do we identify it when we’re experiencing it. There’s a good reason why we talk about suffering so often in Buddhism. Suffering is the central problem that Buddhism addresses. It’s recognizing our suffering as the first step to its solution. We talked about how suffering is a universal truth along with impermanence, along with interdependence. It’s one of the three basic qualities of existence, also known as the three marks of existence, but suffering itself comes in many forms.

We talk about it often in the context of three overall categories, three different categories, and these are the three basic patterns of suffering that we experience in our lives. The first one is the suffering of suffering. I talked about this early on in the podcast. I want to say within the first five episodes. Maybe it was number two, probably number two, but the suffering of suffering, the first type of suffering, this is what we’re all familiar with. This is the pain of birth, old age, sickness, and death, right? This very easy to understand, the suffering of suffering. The second is the suffering of change or the suffering of loss, and this is how we feel when we don’t get what we want or we do get what we want, but we can’t hold on to it, like youth. The aging can fit into this. If things aren’t going the way that we want them to, or losing a job. You know, change itself I think fits nicely into this second category, the suffering of change, but the third category …

Well, those first two for me, my understanding of them is that they’re pretty natural. We’re going to experience the suffering of suffering and the suffering of change. It’s third category of suffering that I’m most interested in exploring in myself and in others. It’s called all-pervasive suffering, and this is the type of suffering that generally we’re not likely to recognize. You could say it’s the most destructive when we do experience it because it’s there, underlying a lot of what we say and do, so this type of suffering, like I said, it’s the hardest to identify, but it’s based on conditioning, the conditioned mind.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve been receiving emails from podcast listeners. I happen to receive emails from friends, from family, and reading through Facebook posts recently that have kind of triggered this thought of this sense of suffering that some people are experiencing in life because of certain circumstances or situations. What I want to highlight is that this type of suffering generally has nothing to do with the circumstances. It has to do with the concepts or the beliefs behind the circumstances, so an example of this, if you were looking at all-pervasive suffering as an example applied to a view that you might have of yourself, so for example, I may experience this form of discontent or suffering because of the way that I look, you know? Maybe it’s my weight or maybe it’s my nose, the shape of my nose, or something along those lines, so I think I start to experience discomfort with reality as it is.

This is how my nose looks and I don’t like it, so the discomfort that I’m feeling, that I think is associated to the circumstance being the way my nose is, if you look at it deeper, what you’ll discover is it’s associated to the idea or the concept, the conditioning in the mind that makes you think, “This isn’t the right nose to have. My nose should look like that. Mine looks like this,” so I’m not suffering because of the nose. I’m suffering because of the belief that I have about how the nose should be. I hope that makes sense. This manifests in three major areas in life. One is life in general. Here’s how life is. Here’s how I think life should be. In the moment that I have the concept, the belief, the idea in my head of how it should be, I encounter this form of all-pervasive suffering. It’s just kind of this lingering feeling that’s always there that things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be, things aren’t the way they should be.

The three main areas where I think this manifests, one is life in general, two is with other people, right? There’s you how you are and you how I think you should be, and this is very evident for couples. Anybody who’s in a marriage or in a relationship, or it could be relationships with family members, siblings, children, parents, right? We start to do this. We conceptualize the idea of who this person should be, so we’re constantly assessing and comparing who they are to who we think they should be, so the suffering, the all-pervasive suffering that arises out of this is that nagging feeling that they’re not who they should be. “You should be more nice. You should believe this. You shouldn’t believe that. You shouldn’t do this. You should do that.” Right? That’s a form of all-pervasive suffering. The suffering doesn’t have to do with the circumstance itself. It has to do with the belief behind the circumstance.

Then the third area is relating to ourselves. This is the example I gave at first, right? There’s who I am and who I think I should be, and the moment I do that, I can experience this sense of all-pervasive suffering. This is what I’ve noticed a lot lately with people who have been reaching out to me. One example of this was someone who was experiencing a lot of feelings of anxiety and depression, and the entire explanation of this situation was focused on how, “I shouldn’t be feeling this.” Right? This person was qualifying the experience of reality saying, “This is how things are. This is how I feel, but I don’t feel that I should feel this because who am I to be experiencing anxiety or depression when my situation in life is actually very good?” That’s one of the things that was specifically brought up like, “Well, somebody who has it way worse than me, they might be more entitled to feeling depressed than I am. I shouldn’t feel that.”

So that immediately adds this additional layer of complexity because there’s how you’re feeling and then there’s how you’re feeling about how you’re feeling, in this case, both of which are unpleasant emotions, right? Feeling depressed is already a difficult thing, but to feel depressed and then feel, on top of that, that I shouldn’t feel depressed, so now I’m feeling bad that I’m feeling bad, and that’s what all-pervasive suffering is. It’s this lingering feeling that’s there because there’s a picture in our heads of how things should and reality isn’t matching that, so to work with all-pervasive suffering what we do is we spend time looking at how am I seeing things? What is the belief behind the feeling or the thought or the emotion I’m experiencing?

One way I like to do this is I ask myself, “Is there a should in here?” Whatever I’m experiencing, especially if I’m experiencing instances of suffering, I ask myself, “What is the should?” You know? “Oh, I’m suffering because this is happening at work and this isn’t how it should be. Oh. Okay. Well, there it is.” I think that there’s a way that it should be. Reality isn’t matching that and boom, I’m experiencing suffering. That’s the all-pervasive suffering, right? So that’s why we say it’s always based on the conditioned mind because there is some form of conditioning, a belief or a concept or an idea that we hold, that if you dig deep enough, that is the root source of the suffering that you’re experience at least when it comes to all-pervasive suffering. You can start to look at this in your own life. I’ve done this on many instances, instances of suffering in my relationships, thinking, “Oh, this is how my relationship should be working.” Right? “This is how the dynamic should be.”

Well, the moment I do that, any time that it doesn’t match that, I catch myself with this lingering feeling that something is not right, and it’s not that it’s not right. It’s that I have this idea, I have this lingering belief that I know how it should be, and because it’s not matching that, I’m experiencing the discomfort. Now I want to caution you of something here. One of the first things that we’ll do is we realize, “Okay, we have the tendency to have shoulds.” Right? How life should be, how you should be, how I should be. Those are the shoulds, so as soon as we learn about this concept, we think, “Oh, I shouldn’t have shoulds.” Right? Now we’re caught back in the very same problem that we’re talking about, so rather than trying to combat this tendency to have shoulds by saying, “I shouldn’t have shoulds,” don’t do that. That’s just going to complicate things.

What we want to do is just look at the scenario and recognize, “Oh, that’s why I’m suffering. Okay, I’m not going to do anything about that. I’m just trying to understand it.” We’re just trying to have a more clear picture of what it is that’s taking place in our minds when we’re experiencing discomfort or suffering. What helps me, rather than thinking, “Uh-oh, I just realized this suffering is based on a should, right? This is how my relationship dynamic should be,” I’ll pause there and just say, “Well, what if I replaced should with could? Here’s how my relationship could be. Oh. Well, that’s a whole different scenario because now it’s more along the lines of possibility. Here’s how it is. Here’s how it could be.” “Should” implies right and wrong, and the idea of right and wrong runs up against problems from this Buddhist perspective. This is why we talk about the story of Who Knows What is Good and What is Bad with the horse.

There are several concepts in Buddhism that make it so that it’s very difficult for us to have the mindset of right and wrong as an inherent thing. How things are, how things should be. One is right, one is wrong. See, if I replace that with how things could be, now it’s on the spectrum of possibility. I’m dealing with reality. This is how it is, and I absolutely accept that this is how it is, but I’m also holding on to the thought that this is how it could, and how it could be may be more beneficial for me, more beneficial for others. It could minimize the suffering that I’m experiencing or the suffering that others are experiencing, and that may be the catalyst for the things that I say and do to try to drive towards what could be, but see, that’s a different mindset than being in reality and fighting reality because it’s not how it should be. See, there’s no way that it should be. There are no shoulds, right?

There’s just how it is. There’s only ever how it is. There’s how it was and there’s how it is, and then there’s how it will be, but never how it should be. There are no shoulds here. I like to replace should with could, and at least for me, in my mind, it changes things. It minimizes that sense of rightness and wrongness, and then reality doesn’t feel like it’s wrong, how it is right now, because it’s just how it is right now, so that for me minimizes a lot of this all-pervasive suffering, this lingering emotion that feels like something is not right because then I’m left with, everything is right as it is because it’s not about right or wrong. It’s about how things and how things could be, and how things are is how things are. That’s reality and that’s what I have to work with, so that concept is really helpful for me. I see this in all of these examples that I receive from emails or people who reach out and they’re encountering something.

Generally there’s a should in there. There’s an idea and they’re bumping up against the comparison of their reality with the story, the narrative of how reality should be. The dichotomy of those two, reality as it is and reality as I think it should be, is what causes this additional form of suffering that’s really self-inflicted, all-pervasive suffering. That’s the type of suffering that we’re really concerned with in Buddhist practice because that’s something you can work with because it stems from your ideas, your concepts. That’s what you can look at. “What ideas do I hold, what beliefs do I hold that cause this form of suffering?” So the invitation is to be able to look deeply at your own ideas. Where do my ideas come from? Do my ideas cause me to experience discomfort or suffering?

Now, there’s one area that I wanted to share with you from a book, Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance. She talks about this concept that I think is worth sharing especially for most of us, western-minded people, because she mentions in her book our culture’s guiding myth is the story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden, and we may forget its power because it seems so worn and familiar, but this story shapes and reflects the deep psyche of the West. It’s the message of original sin. It’s unequivocal. It says, “Because of our basically flawed nature, we do not deserve to be happy, loved by others, or at ease with life. We are outcasts, and if we are to reenter the Garden, we must redeem our sinful selves. We must overcome our flaws by controlling our bodies, controlling our emotions, controlling our natural surroundings, controlling other people, and we must strive tirelessly, working, acquiring, consuming, achieving, emailing, over-committing, and rushing in a never ending quest to prove ourselves once and for all.”

That’s an excerpt from Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance, but I think it hits on something, on a key concept here that seems really powerful. I’ve experienced this in my own life and I continue to experience it in the lives of many of my close family and friends, this idea that we can’t be at ease, we can’t accept things as they are because we’re constantly trying to prove ourselves to this standard, some standard of worthiness, and until I can reach that, I don’t deserve to be happy. I don’t deserve to be loved. I don’t deserve for life to be easy, and I see this all the time. I see this with examples, kind of like I mentioned before, this idea that my life is not hard enough. Therefore, I should not be feeling bad about it, so the moment I’m feeling bad about it, I’m caught in this crazy way of thinking that says, “I feel bad for something I shouldn’t feel bad for. Therefore, that makes me something wrong with me. I’m weak. I’m a failure. I’m something, but the problem is back on me because I’m not supposed to be feeling this.”

If you look at that closely, what you would really find if you got introspective with it is that there’s nothing wrong with feeling bad. There’s nothing wrong with feeling depressed. There’s nothing wrong with feeling anxiety. These are just feelings. They’re emotions. It becomes complicated when we think we shouldn’t be feeling what we’re feeling, and we do this with thoughts too, right? I shouldn’t be thinking this. This happens with meditation all the time. People who are learning to meditate, the first thing they’ll run up against is this idea that, “I’m not doing it right because I’m sitting here, and I’m thinking of this and I should be thinking of that.” It’s missing the point entirely because meditation is about learning to see what’s there. It doesn’t matter if you’re thinking about this or that. It doesn’t matter what this or that is. You’re just learning to see it and to embrace it, experience it, get familiar with it, and we want to do the same with our emotions.

You know, when we’re experiencing a negative emotion like anxiety or depression, we want to fight it. We want to get rid of it because of the conditioned mind that says, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be feeling this.” Well, who said we’re not supposed to be feeling it? Where did that idea come from? You know, what if we understood that there is no supposed to in there, there’s no way that you’re supposed to feel? There’s only ever just how you feel, and if that’s how you’re feeling, sit with it. Look at it. Become intimately familiar with the emotions that you’re experiencing, with the thoughts that you’re having, and stop trying to fight them.

This was a really powerful shift for me to be able to allow myself to feel what I was feeling, and I’ve mentioned in the past, in my story, that I had an instance of tremendous anger, a phase of tremendous anger in my life. A significant part of the anger was aggravated by the belief that I wasn’t supposed to be angry, so there I was angry, and I was angry that I was angry because I had been conditioned to believe that, “You’re a nice person. You’re supposed to turn the other cheek. You’re supposed to not feel these things.” So I would feel them and I would push them aside. I would push anger aside, and I dealt with this for a couple of years. It wasn’t until, through mindfulness practice and studying psychology, that it finally clicked that, “Who said I wasn’t supposed to feel anger?” I allowed myself to be angry, and I was very, very angry and it was okay because it’s just what I was. It’s what I was experiencing.

When I allowed myself to be with the emotion and to just sit with it, I don’t remember exactly how long it was, but it felt like what had been taking me years to try to overcome. By allowing myself to just feel it, within days or weeks it was gone because I allowed it to finally sit with me long enough to run its course. I don’t say that in a way to think, “Oh, then you’re supposed to let it sit there, so then it’s supposed to go away.” There are no supposed-tos here, right? You sit with it. The nature of reality is that it’s changing. Things change. Things change over time, so if we look at it that way, I’m probably not going to feel the way that I feel right now forever.

This is how I feel now, and if anger is what I feel now, well, then sit with it. In my case, it went away, and sure, it’s resurfaced at other times, at other instances for other circumstances, but that specific one ran its course and I have not felt the way that I felt back then again ever since I allowed it to really run its course. That’s what we’re trying to focus on with all-pervasive suffering, is looking at not the circumstances, but what are the beliefs or the concepts behind the circumstances that are making this more complicated than it needs to be? It’s like saying, “Whatever the feeling is, what is the feeling about the feeling? Where does that come from?” You may find it comes from an idea, a belief, an opinion, and that gives you something to work with. That’s something that you can look at. Instead of pushing away the feeling or the emotion, explore the mental process that’s happening behind the emotion. What is the feeling behind the feeling? What is the thought behind the thought? Right?

The thought itself isn’t the problem. The feeling itself isn’t the problem, whether that be a positive or a negative emotion or thought or experience. It’s just what is, so that’s what all-pervasive suffering is. It’s the type of suffering that we’re most likely not going to recognize it because we’re caught up in the experience of the feeling and we don’t even realize that there’s something deeper there. The general background of anxiety, insecurity that can often taint even our happiest moments, deep down that comes from somewhere mental, somewhere where there’s an idea or a thought or an opinion or a belief that colors how we feel about how we feel. That’s what we want to look at.

From the Buddhist point of view, from the Buddhist perspective, these ideas or these concepts are fine. The problem isn’t having them, again, or changing them. The purpose of this is to just explore them because exploring and knowing and understanding and gaining knowledge about ourselves, that’s what offers us glimpses of wisdom. That’s where insight comes from, so again, this isn’t about changing. Sitting here and thinking, “I need to change how things are,” that’s part of the problem. It’s sitting here and thinking, “I need to understand why I feel the way that I feel. I need to look at it deeply. I don’t need to change how I feel. It’s just how I feel, so I want to look at it.” It’s when I look at it that insight arises and I think, “Oh, that’s why I feel why I feel. Okay. Well, that makes more sense.” We process it in that perspective, but not by pushing these things aside, so that’s why I wanted to share.

That’s what I wanted to share about all-pervasive suffering because I see it everywhere and I’m sure you do too. We all friends and family and loved ones who are dealing with all-pervasive suffering all the time, and I’m sure you are too and I am too. You know, I’m trying to understand, at any given moment, if I experience an instance of suffering, the first thing I want to do is analyze it and say, “Is this self-inflicted or is this natural?” Because if it’s natural, I don’t even need to worry about it, but if it’s self-inflicted, I can actually do something about that. I can discover the source of it, the thought, the underlying thoughts, ideas, and beliefs that are making this more uncomfortable than it needs to be and then I have something to work with. That’s what we’re trying to do with all-pervasive suffering, trying to understand at a deeper level what’s going on it, not trying to change it.

It’ll change, trust me. It will change because the nature of reality is that it’s impermanent. Things are always changing, but by having that insight … We can’t gain the insight without increasing our awareness of what it is that’s going on, so rather than fighting the emotion or fighting off the discomfort of suffering, what if we could sit with it, analyze it, study it, embrace it, become intimately familiar with it? Then it’s not such a problem, right? We become more comfortable with the discomfort and we understand it, and then it doesn’t have such a grip on us. It arises, it lingers, and then it moves on in the same way that clouds in the sky do. I hope that is relevant, it makes some sense. Sometimes I wonder. I try to explain things in a way where it doesn’t just seem very esoteric in its explanation.

So I try to explain these concepts and ideas in the way that they’ve clicked and made sense to me, so I hope that this message about all-pervasive suffering resonates with at least some of you, and hopefully gives you the ability to sit with the instances of all-pervasive suffering that you may be experiencing in your life and gives you insight into what’s going on at a deeper level, what the ideas, thoughts, concepts, and beliefs are that may be underlying the suffering that you’re experiencing. I think that’s all I’ve got around this topic.

If you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode, please feel free to share it with others. You can write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. You can join our online community. You can visit secularbuddhism.com/community for more information about that. If you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit secularbuddhism.com and click on the Donate button. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Thank you for your time. Until next time.

56 – What Makes You You?

According to classical Buddhist thought, “self” is a view…It is a product of our perception…and perception is always happening. What if perception is an event that occurs rather than a thing that exists? In this episode, I will talk about the 5 Skandhas / Aggregates and how this teaching can help us to loosen our grip on the sense of self we all experience.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode #56. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about: What Makes You You? (The 5 Skandhas/Aggregates) (Intro Music break 2-3 seconds).
Andrew Olendzki, author of “Untangling Self: A Buddhist Investigation of Who We Really Are” says that “According to classical Buddhist thought, self is a view.” It is a product of our perception…
Perception is always happening. The ongoing stream of perceptions help us to interpret our experience of reality. This is a process that’s happening from moment to moment. Olendzki says that “perception is an event that occurs rather than a thing that exists”. We can imagine this like the still frames of a film. Each frame is unique as it’s captured, but as it’s played in our mind like a continuous film, we see this process as a cohesive narrative or story. So if we were able to pause this ongoing film that I like to call “the perception of life”, and see the individual frames, frame by frame, what would I see? And remember from the Buddhist perspective, it’s not about what we see, it’s about how do we see? This is where the teachings of the 5 aggregates comes in.
The historical Buddha taught about Five Skandhas, also called the Five Aggregates, as  5 components that come together to make an individual.
Everything that we perceive as “I” is a function of these 5 components. So try to imagine the perception you have of your “self” as a process of these 5 components.
In Buddhism
We often talk about how life is “impermanent” and “interdependent.” (the two I’s of Wisdom). Well another way of understanding interdependence is to understand that all things are “conditioned”. To be conditioned is to be dependent on or affected by something else. So in this sense, we are conditioned or dependent on other things. This allows us to pause and ask “What makes me me?” The Buddha taught that there is no independent or permanent “self”. So enderstanding the teaching of the 5 skandhas can be really helpful to seeing through the illusion of self. The sense of self that we all experience.


Keep in mind that my explanation here is intended to be quite basic. The various schools of Buddhism understand the skandhas differently. As you learn more about them, you may find that the teachings of one school don’t quite match the teachings of another. You may also find that the explanation given by one school may be easier to understand than the explanation of another school. This is why it’s important to keep an open mind and to seek wisdom from various sources and approaches. Before going into each of the 5 skandhas or aggregates, I want to talk about the Buddhist view of our sense organs. If our sense of self is in fact a view…we need to understand the sense organs that make up our perceptions. In other words, how to we perceive? From the Buddhist perspective we have 6 sense organs. You’ll recognize 5 of these as the classical senses: sight, sounds, touch, smell and taste. The Buddhist view adds a 6th sense: thoughts or ideas. So we have:
Six Sense Organs and their corresponding objects:
1. Eye
1. Visible Form
2. Ear
2. Sound
3. Nose
3. Odor
4. Tongue
4. Taste
5. Body
5. Tangible Things We Can Feel
6. Mind
6. Thoughts and Ideas


Form or matter; something material that can be sensed. These are essentially the 5 senses we all think about when we talk about senses: seeings, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. Visible form, sound, odor, taste, tangible things.


This is the physical or mental sensation that we experience through contact of the six faculties with the external world. In other words, it is the sensation experienced through the contact of eye with visible form, ear with sound, nose with odor, tongue with taste, body with tangible things, mind (manas) with ideas or thoughts.
Note here that the Buddhist perspective associates the mind as a sense organ, no different than eyes or ears. Some cultures and societies tend to think of the mind is something beyond sense organ, like a spirit or soul, but that concept is out of place in Buddhism. From the Buddhist perspective, the mind is just another sense organ.
The feeling tone aspect of the senses are associated to how we experience pleasure, pain, or neutrality (neither pleasure nor pain). The feeling tone we experience through our senses will condition craving (we want more of it), or aversion (we want to avoid having that experience again). Think about this with each of the 6 senses.


This is the faculty that recognizes. Most of what we call “thinking” fits into this aggregate.
This is the aggregate of the knowledge that puts together the picture. It makes meaning. It is the capacity to conceptualize and recognize things by associating them with other things. For example, we recognize dark hallways and eerie music with a feeling of being scared because we associate those things with things in the past (like a scary movie).
When we see something for the first time, we start scanning our memories and we try to find anything that might be associated with what we are perceiving. If we don’t have an index card in the library of our mind, then we may just associate the perception with it’s context…For example, I perceive this apparatus in front of me to be a car part, because I’m seeing this while standing at the mechanics auto shop and there is a car being fixed there.


This is where we find the biases and prejudices, the interests and attractions that arise in our thought processes and it affects our perceptions. In other words, this aggregate affects the other aggregates too. For example, stinky cheese. Why do some like it and others not? What mental formations or though processes are affecting the perception we have at that moment? So the mind always precedes the mental states we are experiencing.


This is essentially the reaction or the emotional response we have to the object at that moment. It applies to the six sense faculties.
For example, visual consciousness — seeing — has the eyes as its basis and what we see as its object. Audible consciousness has the ears as the basis and what we hear as the object. Mental consciousness has the mind as its basis and an idea or thought as its object. Once we are aware of this relationship between the sense organ and the object, we become aware that there is an emotional response taking place. We like it or don’t like it, we want it or don’t want it, there is a whole range of responses taking place regarding the experience we are having. Olendzki says “we never just notice an object, we engage with it emotionally”.
Our sense of self is created by the emotional responses we experience in each moment. The moment we see something, the sensation of the person who see’s emerges. Olendzski says “the self is created by our emotional responses as they unfold each moment: when we crave for an object of experience, then “the person who” wants it is constructed; when we generate aversion toward an object, then the person who hates it comes into existence.”


The Buddha wove his explanation of the skandhas into a lot of his teachings. The most important point he made about these teachings is that the skandhas are not “you.” They are temporary, interdependent, conditioned phenomena. He taught that clinging to these aggregates as “me” is illusion.
When we realize that these aggregates are just temporary phenomena, conditioned on other phenomena, but they are “not me”, then we are on the path to enlightenment.
Whatever is not yours, abandon it.
What is it that is not yours?
Material form, feeling, perception,
formations, consciousness.
These are not yours.
When you have abandoned them,
that will lead to your welfare
and happiness for a long time. – Majjhima Nikaya 22
So back to the question of What makes you you? All these things make you you, but none of them are you. It’s like recognizing this is how I am right now, but it’s not what I am. Like the analogy of my clothes.
Challenge for this week. Observe without attachment.
If you want to learn more about this topic… check out Andrew Olendzki’s book “Untangling Self: A Buddhist Investigation of Who We Really Are”

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Until next time!

55 – The Four Foundation of Mindfulness

Developing the four foundations of mindfulness helps us to remove the conceptual constructs that often blind us from seeing reality as it is. Imagine being able to see things as they really are, free from our ideas and concepts. This is the very liberation we refer to as “enlightenment”. In this episode, I will discuss the four foundations of mindfulness and how each foundation can help us to gain more clarity and understanding about the nature of reality.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Welcome to another episode of The Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode #53. I am your host, Noah Rasheta and today I’m talking about: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Intro Music break 2-3 seconds).
As you may know, Mindfulness is one of the most basic practices of Buddhism. It’s one of the spokes of the Eight Fold Path (I talked about the eightfold path in episode 41 “Life on the Buddhist Path”). Mindfulness is a hot topic right now. I believe it was Time magazine that not long ago had a cover that said mindfulness has gone mainstream. A lot of people are intersted in mindfulness although they may not be interested in other aspects of Buddhist practice. Mindfulness practice is overlapping with a lot of therapeutic practices in psychology. While many people associate Mindfulness with meditation, there’s more to it than just meditation. In fact, the Buddha taught that we should practice mindfulness at all times, not just while meditating. The reason mindfulness is such a skillful practice is because through mindfulness (through awareness) we can learn to perceive the nature of reality, the nature of things being interdependent and impermanent and that proper perspective of reality helps us to cut through delusions and unhealthy attachments or clinging.
Mindfulness as a practice, goes beyond just paying close attention to things…It’s a form of pure awareness of reality just as it is. Awareness without judgements or concepts. To see reality through this mindful lens, it takes practice. It takes resolve and effort and all the other spokes of the eightfold path.
The Four foundations I want to discuss in this episode are frames of reference, usually looked at one at a time in our mindfulness practice. So you start with mindfulness of the breath and end up with mindfulness of everything.  These four foundations are often taught in the context of meditation, but they can help with other practices too.
The first foundation is mindfulness of body. This foundation centers on the experience of the body. This is an awareness of the body as body—something experienced as breath and flesh and bone. It is not “my” body. Think about the aspects of the body that you don’t control. If it’s “my” body, then why can’t I will it to sleep or to wake up…why can’t I control my heart rate or the speed of my metabolism? Why can’t I control my body temperature? Alan Watts we are a do-happening…. So we don’t view the body as a form that we are inhabiting. We just view it as an experience we are having. The body is just the body in the same way that my hand is just my hand and yet there is a lot going on in the inner workings of my hand.
Most mindfulness exercises focus on the breath for the foundation of body. This is experiencing breath and observation of breathing as a thing that’s happening vs just a thing I control. It is not about thinking about the breath or coming up with ideas or concepts about breath. We just observe and we watch this process that is happening to us.
The idea is that as the ability to maintain awareness of our breathing gets stronger, we become more aware of the whole body as a thing that’s just happening. Think about it, right now, there are incredible processes happening with your body and are outside of our sphere of awareness. Hair is growing, cells are dying and being replaced by new cells. Blood is flowing, oxygen is being carried into your muscles and tissue while carbon dioxide is being removed. There are electrical signals firing off in your brain causing you to think certain things, chemicals are released that cause you to feel certain things…There is a lot of happening that gives off the impression of doing. There is no doing without the happening and no happening without the doing. It’s absolutely incredible when you sit and observe what is happening right now with your body.
In some schools of Buddhism, this form of awareness includes movement. Walking meditation, chanting or rituals are all opportunities to be mindful of the body as it moves or makes sounds. This practice helps us to be more mindful even when we aren’t meditating. I think many schools of martial arts emerged from this practice of bringing meditative focus to body movement. So many of our day to day activities can be used as body awareness practice.
The second foundation is mindfulness of feelings, this includes both physical and mental experiences or sensations. In meditation, we learn to become observers of the feelings and sensations that arise. They come and go, they arise, linger and then go away or get replaced by other thoughts or feelings and we learn to just observe them without judgments and without identifying with them. This is why we often say “I’m feeling tired” as opposed to “I am tired”. These are not “my” feelings, they’re just feelings. When I feel an itch, I don’t say “my itch”, I think oh, my nose has an itch, there is no identifying with the itch, but with feelings, we usually make the mistake of identifying with the feeling. Remember: there are just feelings.
Learning to observe our feelings can sometimes be uncomfortable. The feelings that come up when we’re just observing, can surprise us. We seem to have the incredible ability to ignore our own feelings, especially negative ones like anxiety or anger and then when we sit there and start looking, it’s like they jump out at us and they say “surprise”, I’m here! I’ve been hiding here, didn’t you see me? Haha. Ignoring the feelings or sensations we don’t like is unhealthy. As we learn to observe and fully acknowledge our feelings, we also see how feelings dissipate because feelings, like all things, are impermanent. Feeling tones…pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Notice how our mental and physical sensory experiences all have a feeling tone. Through observation, you can become really skilled at identifying these tones in your ongoing experiences.
The third foundation is mindfulness of mind or consciousness. This foundation concerns watching one’s general mental state. In other words, the awareness of our feelings leads to an awareness of our mind. Without awareness or mindfulness…unseen pleasant feelings lead to craving, unseen unpleasant feelings lead to aversion or hatred and unseen neutral feelings lead to ignorance. The three poisons we often talk about in Buddhist practice. Understanding this correlation helps us to see how mindfulness can serve as a tool to break free from the habitual reactivity we have to our feelings. It’s skillful to know, am I experiencing a mental state of clinging or craving? A mental state of aversion of hatred? Is my mental state focused or scatter brained? This is what it means to be mindful of the mind. What overall mental state am I experiencing? Imagine being able to have more control over our words and actions simply because of the awareness of our mental state. I may be able to pause and refrain from saying something or doing something that I may later regret because I know that my current mental state is not appropriate for what I’m about to say or do… Theres real power in having a keen awareness of our mental states. So many people say or do things that they later regret once they are in another state of mid that is more skillful or healthy.
Another way of thinking of this foundation is “mindfulness of mental states.” Like sensations or feelings, our states of mind come and go. Sometimes we are sleepy; sometimes we are restless. We can learn to observe our mental states, without judgment or opinion. As we learn to see them come and go, we start to understand how insubstantial they are and then they no longer have such power of us.
The fourth foundation is mindfulness of physical and mental processes. This is also sometimes referred to as the mindfulness of all things. This stage integrates the precious three stages. This is where we begin to observe the totality of all the physical and mental processes that are taking place. It’s in this stage that we begin to observe the interplay of all things both physical and mental that are taking place. This is where we begin to notice and observe our “world”. My world, your world, we all live in our own world. Our worlds are influenced by ideas, beliefs, memories, and many more things. So in this foundation of mindfulness we open ourselves to the whole world, or at least the world that we experience. This is where we begin to see and experience “things as they are”. Things are what they are because of how we recognize them. So in this foundation we start to learn to see things in a deeper sense as inter -connected things. This is because that is. We start to see and understand the interdependent and impermanent nature of all things. We become mindful of the fact that there is no independent self, we are conditions by everything else/. The very world we perceive as our own, our ideas, our concepts, our beliefs, they are all conditioned by everything else, they all have causes and conditions and those causes and conditions also have causes and conditions and on and on and on.
Developing the four foundations of mindfulness removes the conceptual construct until we see things as they actually are. This is the very liberation we talk about as enlightenment. The ability to see things as they really are….namely interdependent and impermanent. There is nothing mystical or woo woo about any of this and yet with this clear and direct way of seeing, we become free, liberated from our conceptual conditioning. It’s an incredible way of being with reality. No longer caught up in the mental games that cause us so much unnecessary suffering.
Challenge for this week. Try to practice the four foundations of mindfulness: body, feelings, mind, and physical/mental processes (or all things)
If you want to learn more abut these ideas, these teachings come from the Satipatthana Sutta. The translation I enjoy reading is “In the Buddha’s Words: An anthology of discourses from the pali canon” by Bhikkhu Bodhi

54 – Guided Meditation: Fostering Kindness & Compassion

This is a 10-minute guided meditation aimed at fostering kindness and compassion. Revisit this meditation anytime you feel the need to foster feelings of kindness and compassion.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

53 – Freedom From the Bonds of Anger & Hatred

In order to be free from the bonds of anger and hatred, we have to practice. We cannot simply pray or ask for anger or hatred to be removed from us. In this episode, I will discuss how we can use mindfulness practice as a tool to transform the craving, anger, and delusion within us and instead experience transformation and healing.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Please excuse any typo’s, I use a transcription service to create a text version of the audio recording. If there are any issues with the transcription, please let me know.

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 53. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about freedom from the bonds of anger and hatred.

Like many of you I woke up this morning to the sad news of yet another mass shooting, another senseless act of violence that affected the lives of so many innocent people. Prior to this event, I had already been thinking a lot about anger and hatred, and how these are common emotions in our society, and how hatred can erupt so easily in our society today as well as in our own personal lives and our relationships, and how these emotions affect us so deeply. I think it’s important to clarify the difference between anger and hatred. According to Dr. Joseph Burgo, the voice behind the Psychology Today blog called Shame, he says we can distinguish between anger and hatred in two ways, intensity and duration. It helps to think of them as occurring along a spectrum.

Anger might be triggered when a loved one does something that frustrates us. It tends to come and go, and it doesn’t crowd out all of the other feelings for that person. We can often voice it in ways that aren’t hurtful. Hatred lasts longer and it’s more pervasive. It tends to overwhelm us and obscure everything else we might feel. It makes us want to take action to hurt or destroy whatever inspires the hatred. I think it’s interesting that he mentions that anger doesn’t necessarily crowd out all the other feelings. It’s something we can still work with, but hatred does. I think that’s the key difference. I’m sure you’ve heard of the expression blind rage. To me this is the danger of an emotion like hatred as opposed to anger. It binds us and it blinds us from the moment to moment feelings that we have from other emotions. Often other emotions that are also present like love or kindness, but these things get pushed into the background and become blinded by the one negative emotion that seems to take center stage.

I often think about people who commit heinous acts of violence like mass murderers, or serial killers, people like Hitler for example. In most cases, these are people who also feel kindness. They also feel love. They often have families, siblings, parents, or even children. Even Hitler had a romantic partner, and he had dogs. I have no doubt that he loved his dogs. He fed them, he pet them. How is it that someone who can feel love and kindness on one level for some people in their lives at the same time can be filled with such hatred and hateful actions towards others? It makes sense to me to think that their anger had turned to hatred and crowded out all the other feelings. It’s not to say those other feelings weren’t there. I think sometimes it’s easy for us to use that image as a scapegoat, that someone capable of committing such horrible acts must be inherently evil or psychotic.

No doubt that psychosis does play a part in this for some of these instances, but in a lot of these instances I think it’s just a matter of hatred becoming so binding and so blinding that all the other emotions that are there take a back seat. Anger is often associated to being a negative emotion. It’s a bad emotion that we’re not supposed to feel. I think this is especially prevalent as a way of thinking in our Western society. However, the truth is that anger, it’s just an emotion similar to happiness, similar to sadness. We’re hardwired to feel emotions, whether we want to or not. Certain experiences will automatically trigger these emotions. Often times when triggered, the rational or pragmatic part of our mind ends up just going along for the ride. It’s a lot like the story that I share often about the rider on the horse whose galloping at full speed in the field. When asked where are you going, replies quite honestly I don’t know, ask the horse.

If you’ve ever been in the doctor’s office and you’ve had that reflex test where the doctor strikes your patellar ligament right under your kneecap, you know that the reflex you can’t help it. If everything goes according to plan and you’re physiologically sound, what happens is you get tapped there and you kick. That’s it. The strike placed properly will trigger the reaction, whether you want it or not. I think our emotions are often similar reactions to specific causes and conditions that are present in our lives. They often refer to the visual example of life being like a game of Tetris. I think anger may be the emotion that’s triggered when a new shape shows up and I didn’t want that shape. It’s either inconvenient to my game strategy, or it’s just unpleasant, but the moment that I want it to be other than it is, it’s likely that I’m feeling anger.

Now hatred on the other hand usually comes up when we feel threatened. There’s a sense of threat or fear associated to this. The fear of what threatens us often fuels the hatred to eliminate that perceived threat. You can see how from an evolutionary standpoint this can be a useful survival strategy. However, in our normal day to day lives our modern threat assessments I think are quite inaccurate. We commonly associate a threat to our self-esteem, or a threat to our sense of self-worth as if it were on the same level as an existential threat. Then the feelings of anger can become so uncomfortable that we do everything that we can to try to avoid the feeling or to suppress it. In that case, these feelings becomes like knots. They’re like knots that form inside of us.

From a physical standpoint this happens with our muscles. You can get a knot in your muscle and then it’s stuck there until you go and you get a massage, or have it taken out. Knots are very uncomfortable. I think emotional knots are similar. If we don’t know how to undo these knots, they stay there for a long time. I’m sure we all know someone who has, or has had, anger or hatred inside of them for a long time. It’s not a pleasant thing to see or to experience. Ultimately these knots, they rob us of our freedom. It reaches the point where we are governed by the knots that we have inside of us. We’re no longer free to feel joy and contentment when we’re bound by emotions like anger and hatred. I think this is why there’s that very effective visual story common in Buddhism of someone holding onto a hot ember, or a hot coal, with the intent of throwing it at someone else. Meanwhile, the person holding it is the only one being burned, the only one truly experiencing discomfort.

From the Buddhist perspective, holding on to anger or to hatred, it’s not a moral issue. It’s not about being morally right or wrong. It’s simply an unwise action. Rather than evading the painful truth of how we feel, we’re encouraged to embrace the reality of our feelings and to try to not, to acknowledge feelings like anger and hatred to understand them, to understand the causes and conditions that allow these feelings to arise. Often times trying to understand the causes and conditions of the causes and conditions. Managing hatred can be extremely difficult because of its intensity in the moment, because it makes us want to attack or even destroy whatever we perceive as causing it.

In order to be free from the bonds of anger and hatred, we have to practice. This is why I wanted to discuss this topic today because it’s not an issue of saying a magic word, or we can’t simply pray it away, or ask for this anger or hatred to be removed from us. The Buddhist approach offers a very straightforward instruction on how we can transform the craving, anger, and the delusion within us. This is with the practice of mindfulness meditation. It helps us to undo these knots and to experience transformation and healing. Now something I like to do when these horrible events happen, like the shooting in Las Vegas, rather than just looking at this thinking that crazy person who could do that, I would never do that. I like to pause and think do I harbor in myself any anger or hatred towards any group or individual that could ever escalate to doing something like this.

I think it’s important for us to be able to recognize in moments like this that often times what you have here is a relatively ordinary person committing an extraordinary act. They’re not that different from us. These are people who are probably experiencing fear, anger, or hatred to the point where it causes them to commit something like this. I don’t think it helps for us to immediately ostracize them as an anomaly. That’s something an evil person would do, but I’m not evil. Well, I would venture to say that a few days ago that person was probably very similar to us thinking that they’re normal. I want to reaffirm with this presentation on anger and hatred that anger and hatred are just emotions. There’s nothing inherently wrong with feeling them.

Like any other emotion, anger and hatred have causes and conditions. When the causes and conditions are there, the emotion arises. When the causes and conditions are not there, the emotion is not there. It’s a lot like what we observe in nature. When the conditions are there, it rains. When the conditions aren’t right, it doesn’t rain, there’s no rain. For these emotions, they can go from being emotions like I said to becoming knots, deep rooted knots inside of us. I think a big part of what transitions from a feeling and emotion into a deep rooted knot is our desperate attempt to avoid or push these things away. There’s the expression that what we resist persists. I think that’s kind of what we’re talking about here.

I want to make note of the fact that we can get tangled up in the knots of positive emotions too. This isn’t just the negative emotions like anger and hatred. When we encounter something pleasant, it can become the object of our desire. Then the very risk of losing the object of our desire can become a source of great suffering for us. Pleasant or unpleasant, any kind of knot, any kind of knot that isn’t worked with and transformed, ultimately takes away our freedom. This is why I think it’s so important to guard our minds very carefully, to be mindful of what it is we’re feeling in order to prevent the feeling from turning into a knot that begins to take root in us.

Anger is an unpleasant feeling. It causes us to suffer. I think that’s why we typically try so hard to get rid of it, especially in our society. It seems to be quite common to vent. When you’re experiencing anger, you vent. Maybe we’ll take it out on an object like hitting your pillow or punching bag, or going out into a field and yelling or screaming at the top of your lungs, or some form of venting. That can feel therapeutic, like when you vent it feels good. The danger of this as a practice is that we develop the habit of acting out, reacting to the feeling that we’re having. It’s like we’re training ourselves to use aggression as a tool to eliminate the unpleasant feeling. Now sure the aggression may not be targeted to an individual, and that’s certainly better than if it was, but we’re still using aggression as the tool to eliminate the unpleasant feeling.

The Buddhist approach, the mindfulness based approach, is instead to use awareness as a tool to understand our anger. In this approach what we do is we embrace the anger every time we experience it. I have no doubt that at times like this many of us are experiencing anger. Rather than pushing that aside or feeling like we shouldn’t feel that, it’s more like saying hello my old friend anger, I see you are here. You are visiting me again. Come, sit down, let’s visit for a minute. Mindfulness doesn’t fight or resist the anger or hatred that we’re feeling, instead it recognizes that it’s there. Mindfulness allows us to be aware of what’s going on in the present moment. It may very well be that in the present moment anger or hatred is what’s happening, so we become aware of that.

Mindfulness recognizes anger. It allows us to be aware of its presence. It allows us to accept it, to be okay with the fact that it’s there. I’ve talked about this before in the podcast, how there was a phase in my life when I was experiencing a lot of anger, anger and hatred I would say. I was not okay with the fact that I was angry, and that only made me more angry. I was in this situation where I was angry that I was angry. I hated that I hated. This takes a different approach. It tried to put us back in the first level of what’s going on, which is reality.

I’ve mentioned this before, there’s reality and there’s the story around reality. To be angry is one thing, but to be angry and think I’m not supposed to be angry puts me in this alternate reality, which is the story. The story I’ve told myself that I’m not supposed to be angry, so now I’m experiencing anger at being angry. It puts me on a whole new reality that is not real. It’s an alternate reality. It’s the story of reality. We’re trying to get back into the first level, reality as it is. Reality may be I’m angry and that’s it, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with whatever it is that we’re feeling.

Now I’ve had this experience as a father a few times learning that when you’re holding a newborn and you’re embracing it, you’re just embracing whatever is there. Sometimes they’re happy, sometimes they’re just neutral and they’re looking around, but at other times they’re really upset and they’re crying, and they’re screaming and they’re kicking. With one of our kids, with [Ryco 00:16:48] when he was little, he had issues with his stomach. His little stomach was always churning and turning, and he had a lot of discomfort. He would lay there and he was inconsolable. He would cry and he would scream. Now when you’re holding a crying baby, you nurture it. You don’t use aggression. You don’t shake the baby to get it to quit crying. That would only complicate things. It would make things infinitely worse. In my experience when he was inconsolable like that, I would just hold him. I would hold him tight and I would talk to him, and eventually it would pass.

What I’m trying to say is if we’re trying to explore this idea of how can we use anger and hatred as tools for growth, there are ways that we can do that. We can use what we’re experiencing and through mindfulness, through awareness, we can transform these emotions into a tool for growth, but it does involve and approach that seems counterintuitive. With a child it doesn’t seem counterintuitive that if they’re crying you need to comfort them, but when we are experiencing discomfort, a feeling like anger or hatred is not comfortable. When you feel that, rather than thinking I need to get rid of this immediately, that’s the aggressive mindset, we think well what would the other approach be, to approach this through to tenderness, through kindness, through compassion.

Really quickly I want to highlight, I have a poster hanging here in my office behind me. I look at it quite often. I just thought about this as I’m talking about this topic. The poster says “no mud, no lotus.” As practitioners of mindfulness meditation, we don’t want to reject or push away what we are experiencing in life. We want to turn and face it and be with it. Don’t think of your mind of the battlefield of good emotions like happiness and peace constantly fighting against bad emotions like anger and hatred. Instead, think of treating the whatever’s there, whatever emotions show up, on an equal playing field with kindness and compassion.

When I was experiencing this phase in my life where I was experiencing hatred, I was able to transform it by embracing this inner child. I was able to almost see myself in two roles, like I’m the comforting parent who’s holding myself who’s the crying baby, who’s just throwing a tantrum, the inconsolable me that was full of hatred and anger. This allowed me to suddenly experience what it felt like to be okay with not being okay. I was no longer feeling hatred towards the hatred I was feeling. I was no longer feeling anger towards the anger I was feeling. Like I mentioned before, it put me right back square with reality experiencing the emotion that was there, which in this case was anger or it was hatred. This is like the practice of self-compassion I talk about a little bit in Episode 37, The Art of Self-Compassion.

The idea here is I would say the first step in becoming free from the bonds of anger and hatred is to just recognize what’s there. Recognize it, don’t fight it. Notice that it’s not that we’re trying to become free from anger and hatred, it’s that we’re trying to become free from the bonds of anger and hatred. When anger and hatred bind us and blind us, that’s when they become dangerous. I think this often happens in the transition of experiencing the emotion and then fighting the emotion. Once we recognize that anger or hatred is there we embrace it. Instead of fighting it, we try to increase our awareness around it. Why I am I feeling this, or what does it feel like to be feeling what I’m feeling. These are questions that I think are good in probing that introspective process of trying to increase awareness around our emotions.

I don’t know about you, but this was a novel concept for me to sit with an emotion like anger and say wait, the problem isn’t that I’m experiencing anger. The problem is that I’m experiencing anger and I don’t want to experience anger. Those are two different things. That gave me the freedom to sit with the emotion. Imagine, like I said, you’re visiting with an old friend, and it really is an old friend. We’ve all experienced anger or hatred on multiple occasions throughout our entire lives, and we’ve always shooed it away. You’ve never really gotten to know this old friend because you’re pushing it away every time it comes to visit. When you learn how to embrace your anger, how to embrace your hatred, something will change, everything will change.

This is why I feel this is an important topic right now. Rather than visiting difficult occasions like this, difficult events that happen cause us to experience anger and hatred, and rather than pushing those aside, I would invite you at this time with what you’re experiencing in life, all the crazy things that are happening all over the world right now, the anger and the hatred that you may be feeling from this, allow it to be there, invite it in, look at it, analyze it, embrace it. Now there’s another powerful technique that works very well for working with anger and hatred, and that’s dedicating the time and energy to foster alternate feelings like kindness and compassion.

I think one of the mistakes we make is having the perspective that if I’m feeling this I need to eliminate this in order to feel that. Instead of viewing it like that, imagine a stage. Each of our feelings and emotions, they’re on that stage like actors in a play. Rather than thinking I need to eliminate these actors, these characters from the play, instead I need to work with the script in a way that allows the other characters to spend more time on center stage. Anger and hatred they’re part of the play. They’re not going to go away, but it’s okay to say I’m going to allow these characters to spend much more time in the back. Sure they may emerge from time to time because that’s the nature of reality, that these emotions when the causes and conditions are right, boom they’re there, but we can help to create the environment where other characters like kindness and compassion get to spend significantly more time in the front as they become more active in this play of life.

I love thinking of life like this where we are, you’re the play writer, you’re the director, you’re the protagonist, you’re the antagonist, you’re all of it. This is kind of a fun way to work with that. To do that, I’ve recorded a guided ten minute meditation to help with the process of fostering kindness and compassion. I’m going to post that immediately after this episode that way you can, it will be a standalone episode that you can download or listen to whenever you want without having to listen to this entire episode. It’s going to be episode number 54. It will be called Guided Meditation, Fostering Kindness and Compassion. I would invite you to listen to that after you listen to this podcast episode.

you can visit that one often. Use it as a tool to develop kindness and compassion rather than focusing on standing against anger and against hatred inside of you. Allow them to be there, but work for feeling kindness and compassion. Rather than spending so much time and energy to eradicate these feelings, which cannot be eradicated, it’s not the nature of reality, spend more time fostering what you do want to be there, the kindness and compassion. I wanted to share this podcast episode at a time when I think a lot of us are feeling anger. Some may be feeling a sense of hatred, even hatred towards hatred is still hatred.

I hope that we can heal inside of each of us the relationship we have from the feelings of anger and hatred. I hope that we can find freedom from the bonds of anger and hatred in our own lives. I’ve repeated this on multiple occasions throughout the podcast and with all the work that I’m doing, which is that instead of thinking we need to go out there and change people, I think we need to change ourselves. I hope that we can take the opportunity in moments like this to look very honestly at ourselves and ask ourselves is there hatred and is there anger inside of me. If there is, instead of aggressively trying to push it out, I want to sit with it long enough to understand it, to see what its causes and conditions are, and then allow it to transform as the play transforms so that other characters can take center stage, kindness and compassion.

That’s what I wanted to share with you, so thank you for listening to this podcast episode. If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with others, write a review, you can give it a rating in iTunes. If you would like to join our online community with mindfulness meditation practitioners, please visit secularbuddhism.com/community. If you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with this podcast, please 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. Until next time.