67 – Never Enough

In this podcast episode, I will discuss how the attitude of “never enough” can lead to a form emotional abuse that we inflict on our selves. I will discuss the idea of how letting go of the unhealthy views, ideas, and beliefs we have of ourselves can lead to a form of liberation where we are finally vulnerable and free to fly.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism podcast. This is episode number 67. I am your host Noah Rasheta. And today I’m talking about our tendency to feel like things are never enough. So the title of this podcast episode, Never Enough comes from a song in the musical, The Greatest Showman with Hugh Jackman. If you have seen it, there is a song in that movie called Never Enough and I really like that song. I think it has a really powerful message that to me quite honestly seems like the anthem of our society, it’s a way of thinking that seems to permeate our societal views and our expectations towards life, towards others, and towards ourselves. If you think about this when it comes to physical things like having a house, there is this mentality of never enough.

You can have a great home and you’re always daydreaming of what that bigger house would have or, “This house is great but it would be better with the pool.” Same with our jobs, “This job would be great but if I could just get paid more, or I had a better title, or if I could get moved up to the office with the corner window view.” Whatever it is, there’s this tendency to think of never enough. We’re always seeking after more. We do this with our relationships, we do this with our experiences and our feelings. You can be feeling great about something in life but that’s never enough, we’re always looking for the next thing. And I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing, I think this tendency has driven us as individuals, but also collectively as a species, as a society to be able to make leaps and bounds in terms of comforts, technological innovations, because there is this drive that seems to motivate us for a better life and it’s always happening.

So I don’t want to give off the impression that this is necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it can get tricky if we just have a habitual tendency to react to this desire to have more and more and more. When we understand it, when we understand ourselves, we can see this in ourselves and we can become more skillful with how we handle this natural human tendency, where we can pause for a moment and say, “Is this a worthwhile pursuit or has this become an unskillful habitual form of reactivity where I’m just never going to be content with what I have.” We can be more skillful with how we handle this natural human emotion. So I do want to be clear about that. But in the song, if any of you have ever heard it, she’s talking about how all the shine of a thousand spotlights, all the stars we steal from the night sky will never be enough, never be enough. Towers of gold are still too little, these hands could hold the world but it’ll never be enough. That’s the message conveyed in that song. It’s a really catchy tune.

Like I said earlier, I really like that song and I like belting it out in the car, which is hard to do because it’s really high notes. So it would be embarrassing if anyone ever heard that. But again, I think we live in a society where we view life as never enough. And what I want to talk about in this episode is specifically, how does that start to influence how we view others. I think that can be one of the more dangerous ways. I want to correlate this notion of never enough, to how some people end up getting entangled in a much bigger and more serious problem, and that’s the problem of emotional abuse. The abuse that we receive from others or that we give to others. And I would assume most of you know of someone who has gone through some form of emotional abuse, I was just talking to someone about … So I was talking to someone who heard from someone who had been confided in by a dear friend of that person, who’s going through a difficult time with emotional abuse in a relationship.

And hearing this conversation unfold, it was interesting to be able to feel a sense of anger and frustration towards that situation, because you care for the person who’s going through this. But what was interesting to me was how this person who was telling me about this experience and seeing in this person the anger, and the total unacceptability on behalf of this friend who was going through this. And I think that was great to hear in the sense that, Wow, we don’t we don’t put up with that, we we want what’s best for our friends, for our loved ones.” But it did get me thinking a little bit, because so many of the things that were being described in this specific situation, in this relationship in terms of an emotional abuse, seemed to stem from this notion of never enough. This spouse was being … is emotional abused because the abuser has this mindset that this person is not good enough, a good enough spouse, or a good enough parent, or a good enough partner. In all these different realms and aspects of the relationship there’s the sense of not being enough, so then there’s the intimidation and all the other emotional abuse that was unfolding.

But again, what I started thinking about as I was listening to all this is, “Man, a lot of the symptoms seem to be very common in how we deal with ourselves.” So it got me thinking … I looked up what is the definition and the symptoms of emotional abuse. There are tons of resources online for people dealing with emotional abuse, but this stood out to me because one definition of emotional abuse is, any act including confinement, isolation, verbal assault, humiliation, intimidation or any other treatment, which may diminish the sense of identity, dignity and self-worth. And I really paused for a moment thinking, “Oh man, so many of us do this to ourselves all the time. And how fascinating that we would be so indignant hearing about somebody else enduring this from somebody else, but rarely do we pause and feel that same sense of indignation when we realize how guilty we all are of doing this to ourselves at one time or another.” It mentioned some of the specific signs and symptoms of emotional abuse. And listen to some of these and just imagine … Imagine yourself, have you ever done any of this to yourself? Yelling or swearing, calling names or insults, a form of mockery, mocking, any kind of threat or intimidation, anything that is humiliating.

I thought, “Man, we all talk to ourselves in these tones, swear at ourselves.” You, “Blah, blah, blah,” talking to yourself, or calling insults. I’m sure everybody listening to this has called themselves an idiot or felt, not just called yourself that, but genuinely felt like you are such an idiot because of something you did or didn’t do. Threats and intimidation, “Man, if you ever do this again, I don’t know.” Any kind of threat. Some people punish themselves, “I wont buy this thing that I want, or I’ll take this back,” or I don’t know. So I wanted to change the direction of that topic because I think all of us can immediately identify that if we had a friend come to us and tell us about the type of emotional abuse that they were enduring, we would all feel incensed and a form of outrage and we would want to do something about it. But when change that direction and we look inward, and ask ourselves, “Are we emotionally abusive to ourselves?” I think it gets a little harder. And if you listen to that list again of symptoms and signs, and you genuinely ask yourself, “Do you do this to yourself?” I think a lot of people would have to acknowledge that yeah, they do. If not from time to time, maybe all the time, I always talk to myself that way.

And this correlates going back to Episode 57, I quoted something from Tara Brachi’s book, Radical Acceptance. And I want to spell Tara Brachi’s name, T.A.R.A. B.R.A.C.H.I. I had feedback from a podcast listener that I think was excellent feedback, to mention the spelling of names when I’m referencing people or their books, because not everyone has heard of these people. So I’m going to try to do that from now on. Thank you for the feedback. But she mentions, and I quoted this in Episode 57. She says, “Our culture’s guiding myth is the story of Adam and Eve’s exile from the Garden of Eden. And we may forget it’s power because it seems so worn and familiar, but this story shapes and reflects the deep psyche over the West. The  message of original sin is unequivocal, because of our basic 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.”

I think that sentiment correlates pretty well with this notion of never enough. It’s like we’re striving tireless to prove ourselves. And when I have all these incredible things, the car that I have, or the house, or for the relationship, it’s like, “I’ve got to have more. It’s got to be better, it’s got to be a newer car, a faster car, a bigger house, or a house with more amenities,” or the relationship, “It’s got to be even more and more perfect.” So this sets us up to be in a position where it’s easy to be emotionally abusive to ourselves, because we don’t see ourselves as worthy. I want to correlate this entire conversation with another teaching, another notion that I think goes really well with it. And this is something I shared earlier this week on the Secular Buddhism Podcast Community Facebook group. So this is a teaching that comes from Pema Chodron and her name is P.E.M.A. C.H.O.D.R.O.N.. And there’s a little book called The Pocket, Pema Chodron and I’ve been sharing daily teachings of hers on the Facebook group. But one that I share that she wrote is called, Everything Has To Go.

And I want to read it to you really quickly because I think it goes well with this topic. But she says, “All of us are like eagles who have forgotten that we know how to fly, the teachings are reminding us who we are and what we can do. They help us notice that we’re in a nest with a lot of old food, excrement and stale air. From when we were very young we’ve had this longing to go see the mountains in the distance and experience that big sky and the vast ocean. But somehow we got trapped in our nest, just because we forgot that we knew how to fly. We are like eagles but we have on underwear, and pants, and a shirt, and socks, and shoes, and a hat, and a coat, and boots, and mittens, and an iPod, and dark glasses and it occurs to us, that we could experience the vast sky but we better start taking off some of this stuff. So we take off the coat and the hat and it’s cold, but we know that we have to do it. And we teeter on the edge of the nest and we take off. Then we find out for ourselves that everything has to go. You just can’t fly when you’re wearing socks, and shoes, and coats, and pants, and underwear. Everything has to go.”

And to me this teaching that she shares is about the vulnerability of being naked in terms of our ideas and our our beliefs, specifically about ourselves. The underwear, the coat, and the boots, these all represent the comforting concepts and ideas that we cling to. Maybe comforting isn’t the right word, I guess you could say comforting in the sense that we’re used to them, but really they’re hindering us. I think often the emotional abuse that we inflict on ourselves comes through our deeply held views and beliefs that we have about who we are, or who we think we’re supposed to be, or who we think we’re not supposed to be. We’re not supposed to look or act a certain way, we’re not supposed to be lost or confused or have doubts about things, we’re supposed to have it all together. And I think that’s why in our society we tend to portray our life in a certain way on social media. And I think all of you have seen this or know what it’s like to see an Instagram feed or a Facebook news feed where everything just looks peachy and hunky-dory.

Thinking about last week’s podcast episode, The Layers of Experience. I think this happens in how we portray our lives. We may be feeling a certain level of discontent with how we think our life is, but then there’s this other layer, the secondary layer is when I share a certain image of what my life seems like and people seem to respond to that, now there’s a sense of satisfaction in the sharing. And that tends to cover up the discomfort of the actual experience of living. So there’s the experience of living that may not be very comfortable, but then I’m sharing the life that I want you to think that I living, and that gives me a sense of comfort because at least I feel like you think I’ve got it all figured out. But we’re still in the same boat that I talked about last week, which is the layers of experience. So it takes an incredible amount of courage to be able to take it all off and to just be there, experiencing life as it unfolds without the comfort of what we’re used to in terms of our concepts and ideas and beliefs. But just letting go and being ready to fly.

And you have to let go of an idea or concept of belief to be able to feel that sense of feeling lighter. I would assume many of you have felt this before, what does it feel like when you’ve let go of a view that you had about yourself or about someone else, and then you can just be around that person and you feel lighter. There’s no more judgment, there’s no more measuring of who they are in that moment versus who you think they should be, but you can do this with yourself. Imagine the sense of lightness that you would feel if you felt worthy of being who you are, there’s no scale anymore that’s saying, “Well, I’m good but if I could just be this or that I would be better.” You can go back and listen to that podcast episode called, We Don’t Need To Change Ourselves. That’s what this message is alluding to.

So where does this process of everything has to go, where does that start? We can start with looking at the views and expectations that you have for yourself, look at your pervasive or recurring thoughts and emotions, because they come from somewhere, they come influenced by views. And it’s really about letting go of thoughts in the sense of changing the relationship we have to our thoughts. I think there’s a misconception here that what we need to do is stop thinking about ourselves a certain way. And I want to give you an example from my own life that has been a very powerful way for me to experience this sense of introspection. So some of you know that one of the catalysts for getting into mindfulness in the first place was going through a really difficult phase in life where I had experienced a hardship. And in my experience there was a pervasive thought that arose out of this experience. And for me this thought was the thought of, “You’re not lovable, you’re not wanted, you’re not I guess likable.” But really it was … It’s been a pervasive thought for me.

And it arises and it complicates aspects of my relationship at times because an argument or things that can be very natural and normal in a relationship for me can trigger this pervasive recurring thought of, “You’re just not lovable. You’re not loved and no matter what you do, you’ll never be worthy of being loved.” And that’s been a difficult recurring thought for me, a very difficult emotion to deal with because it’s easy to believe your own thoughts. An  for years my meditative practice was built around the idea that if I could get mindful enough, if I could meditate long enough, somehow I could finally eradicate this thought. Like it’s a weed in my mind and I could finally pluck it or pick it and it’d be gone. And to my frustration, years and years of practice, it wasn’t going away. I mean I think to be honest it minimized it, it wasn’t nearly as pervasive as it used to be, it used to be a recurring thought and then it would become … from time to time it would take a certain thing to trigger the thought.

But man, once the thought was there, the thought would immediately induce a certain emotion. It would cause certain memories to arise, it was like a spiral of feelings thoughts and emotions that would build on each other. The thought would trigger an emotion, which would trigger a memory, and the memory would trigger another emotion, that emotion would trigger another thought. And there I was spiraling in this form of disturbing or uncomfortable feelings. But what I found with time was that, the problem wasn’t the pervasive thought, the problem was that I believed my own thought. So what changed over time was the relationship that I had with the thought, but not the thought itself magically going away. And every now and then it still surfaces as a recurring thought for me, but when it does what’s changed again is the relationship I have with the thought. Now I almost smile and just see it for what it is. It’s that pervasive thought, there it is again and I see it with a greater sense of compassion and fondness, almost a softer tone to it rather than feeling aggressive like, “I need to get rid of that thought.”

I see it for what it is, I get why it’s there. Past experiences, past feelings and emotions cause this thought to become a recurring thought. And I can see that, I see it for what it is and when it arises I see it and it’s like I say, “Well, there you are and that’s fine. You can be there, I don’t believe you anymore. Just because I thought it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s reality.” And that has been an incredibly powerful transformation for me in terms of the relationship I have with my own thoughts. I don’t believe my own thoughts anymore. I’m very cautious about what I believe or what I don’t believe, just because I think it doesn’t mean it’s true and that was where the power of that specific pervasive thought, you’re not lovable, lost a lot of it’s power. So I would hope that anyone listening to this would … If you heard about somebody going through emotional abuse, I would hope that you would feel a tremendous sense of concern to want to do something about it to help a friend get out of a relationship that’s causing where there’d been emotional abuse.

I think most of us would. I don’t think we’d be like, “Hey, well you know just deal with it.” I think most of us would say, “Hey, this is a very serious thing. We need to look at this, what can you do to get out of this relationship? This is unhealthy for you.” I think we would have a lot of genuine concern for that person. I would hope that you would have the same level of concern about your own emotional abuse if you were to detect … if you were to be honest with yourself and detect any of those signs and symptoms of emotional abuse coming from yourself directed towards yourself. And I think there are a couple of tips to get started with this process of being more vulnerable, this process of recognizing everything has to go and that is, first recognizing it’s going to take enormous courage. It takes small steps. For me it was something as simple as asking a loved one, what are they thinking about, becoming more comfortable with not knowing how that answer is going to unfold or what it’s going to say about me or where are they going to think about me and being proud about the bravery of being willing to take those little steps. And being more vulnerable, more exposed so to speak.

If you tend to worry a lot about other people … What other people think of you, which I think is a lot of people. Most of us have that. Recognize that tendency and just remember most people are probably feeling that exact same fear that you have, and really they’re just focused on their own internal struggles and not necessarily on you. What they think about you, says more about them than it does about you. It’s helpful to remember that. Now that doesn’t magically make this feeling go away, but it is a helpful reminder that they feel the same thing. Most of us we’re hard wired for this as humans, as social creatures to be very skillful at reading what we think others are interpreting of us. It’s normal and it’s natural but it’s helpful to recognize they’re feeling the same thing. And when things are feeling a little bit too overwhelming, you can always focus your attention inward on your breath, on the sensations in your body for a few moments and just try to visualize what would life be like for you once everything has gone, once the coat, and the shoes, and socks, and everything. Everything that’s holding you back from being free to fly, free to be you.

I’ve talked about this before Buddhism is often referred to as the path of liberation. It’s not called the path to happiness. It’s called the path of liberation for a reason because what we’re bound by in so many instances is the poisons of greed, and hatred, and delusion. And in this case I think delusion specifically around the views that we have about ourselves and others and about life, and thinking that there’s always things are supposed to be. Being able to live a life where we’re liberated from that, where we’re free as Pema talks about that, “To be the Eagles that we realize that we are capable of flight, capable of of souring but oftentimes grounded by all the unnecessary weight of the unnecessary accessories that come in the form of ideas, and beliefs, and and concepts that we hold about ourselves. So that’s the topic I wanted to share in this podcast episode.

I hope that you’ll be willing to take a few moments this week and just look inward and be honest and ask yourself, “How do I talk to myself? Am I emotionally abusive to myself? And if so, what am I willing to do to make a change in this relationship that I have with myself, the relationship I have with my with my thoughts, my recurring thoughts, the thoughts that can be aggressive towards myself. Do I believe those thoughts? Like I mentioned earlier the belief that I had about me. That belief or that thought, it’s a recurring thought but I don’t believe it. And just to spend some time being introspective about yourself, how are you towards you? That’s I guess the question that I hope you’ll sit with this week and I hope you’ll be able to experience a sense of lightness as you start to let go of things, as you start to realize everything has to go in order to have that liberation to fly like Pema talks about.

So that’s all I’ve got for today. I mentioned last week that I am trying really hard to have weekly episodes, and I’m excited because I did one last week and here I am doing another one on Sunday evening. I’m going to make Sunday the day that I record these. And I’ll either release them Sunday night or Monday mornings, because statistically during research on the website I realize Monday, there’s a huge spike in searches online for mindfulness, which I think is really telling. Monday everyone wants to be really mindful. And guess when it drops? It starts to drop on Friday. So Friday and Saturday are the two lowest days for podcast listens, for downloads, for web searches everything, and not just online, but keywords on Google like mindfulness or how to meditate or anything along those lines, drop dramatically on Friday and Saturday. They start to increase Sunday evening, which I just think is so fascinating. Sunday evening and Monday we are in full force looking for how to be more mindful.

So I want to release podcast episodes either Sunday night or Monday morning. Mindful Monday, we could call it, and give you something that you can think about for that week, that can be a lesson or something that you keep with you throughout the week. So I hope this podcast episode has been enjoyable and beneficial to you. If you’ve enjoyed this podcast episode feel free to share it with others. You can read a review, give it a rating in iTunes. And if you want to join that online community I was talking about, you can visit secularBuddhism.com/community and I have a link on that page to the Facebook group. If you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit SecularBuddhism.com, and then click on the link up at the top that says Donate, it’s on the menu. And that’s all I have for now but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

66 – The Joy & Pain of Sharing Experiences

Have you ever felt the strong urge to capture the experience you’re having and then to share it with others? We do this with movies, books, restaurants, and of course ideas, opinions, and beliefs. In this episode, I will discuss the joy and pain that often arise when we try to share our experiences and how that joy/pain doesn’t have to take away from the original experience itself.

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Transcription of the podcast episode:

Noah Rasheta:              Welcome to another episode of the Secular Buddhism Podcast this is episode number 66. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. Today, I’m talking about the joy and pain of sharing experiences. As most of you know, I just recently returned from a two-week trip to Uganda, Africa. I’ve announced that trip before here on the podcast and on the website, and on the Facebook page. It was an incredible trip. It was even better than last year in the sense that there were new experiences and connections that were made that were really meaningful.

I had the opportunity to start the trip out by doing a gorilla trek with Suzy, who is also the coordinator of these trips, and a few other people. It was a really neat experience spending time sitting on the side of a mountain surrounded by gorillas. The family that we were trekking had 19 members in it. Just sitting there quietly, peacefully on the mountain side watching them, taking pictures, seeing them do what they do, that was a really neat experiences. I think that kind of set the tone for the rest of the trip.

I’m glad to be back. I feel like the week leading up to the Africa trip, there was a lot of preparation work, and packing, and things that needed to be done. That made it difficult for me to record any podcast episodes. Then, of course, the two weeks that I was gone, I was pretty much out of commission with no internet or very little technology in general. Then, I came home and it took about a week to adapt. Last week was the first full week home. It took several days to adjust to the time zone. But, I finally feel like I’m back. The schedule feels normal, with the exception of daylights saving time throwing a little wrench in there, but things feel pretty much back to normal. I’m excited to get back on track with recording podcasts episode.

Now, another thing that I’ve had going on that’s been taking up a lot of my time is wrapping up the book that I’m writing. I’ll mention more about that in another podcast episode. But with all of that, needless to say, I am several weeks behind on my supposed weekly podcast episodes. I’m glad to be back. I hope you guys enjoy the episode that I prepared for today.

What I wanted to talk about, this concept of the joy and pain of sharing experiences. It’s something that I first thought of while I was in Africa. I’ve thought about this before, but when you’re in a really scenic place like Africa, you know, you’ve got your camera and you’re snapping away all these pictures, and you can’t help but to wonder in some of those moments, “What am I valuing more, the experience I’m having or the capturing of the experience I’m having so that I can relive that later, so I can post it on social media, see what other people think about what I just captured?” This got me thinking about the joy and the pain when we share experiences.

Now, sharing, taking a picture is no big deal, but I’m pretty sure all of you have experienced this where you’re doing something, you see something, and you think one of your first thoughts it’s, “Oh, I need to take a picture of that,” because you want others to experience what you’re experiencing. If you’re like me, you may have even felt in that instance, if you didn’t have your camera with you, for example, that the experience that you’re having is now affected because you’re not going to able to share the experience. I wanted to correlate this a little bit with the concept of the foundations of mindfulness. As some of you may know, I talked about this in past podcast episodes. But in nutshell, the foundations of mindfulness help us to understand that there are layers of experience. There’s what you’re experiencing and then there’s the experience that you’re having around the experience that you’re having. This can be pretty complex, at least in multiple layers.

For example, I see something. Let’s talk about a movie, for example, we go to a movie, and we enjoy watching the movie. That’s one experience. But then, we want others to go watch that movie. You’ll call your siblings or friends, and you’re like, “You’ve got to go watch that movie.” There’s a second experience that we have, that’s the experience of sharing the first experience. You probably know what it feels like for someone to say, “Oh, wow. Yes, I love that movie. Thank you for recommending it.” Now you’re adding on to the joy. You had the first experience that was a pleasant one, and now you have a second experience that’s also pleasant because somebody else enjoyed what you shared with them.

But the flip side can also happen. Someone can say, “Oh, I didn’t like that movie.” What’s interesting is then you’re experiencing pain on the second level, but on the first level was the movie itself, right? The movie experience was pleasant, but now I’m feeling a little upset because my brother didn’t like it and I thought he would’ve loved it. I can believe he didn’t like it. What’s wrong with him, you know? So now, you’re allowing the feeling of second layer of experience to affect the first layer. At least if you’re not careful, you blend all of this into one overall experience.

Through the foundations of mindfulness, what we would want to do ideally is to keep these layers separate and to allow ourselves to enjoy the thing that we’re enjoying and then, sure, if we’re lucky, we get to enjoy the sharing of the experience as well. But if it’s not well received, we don’t have to allow the pain of the second level or the second layer of the experience to affect first.

Now, with a movie, that’s not a big deal, at least I hope it’s not. Maybe for some people it is. I actually do know some people that do make a very big deal about their recommendations, and if you don’t like their recommendations, they’re upset. Things of that nature. But with movies, or with food, restaurant recommendations, it’s not such a big deal. What I want to highlight here that I do think is a big deal is the more touchy subjects, political views, political ideas, religious views, and religious ideas, and religious beliefs, any form of ideological belief, any form of philosophical view or belief, that gets a little more complex.

Now, you’ve probably noticed that when somebody has, let’s say a spiritual experience where they discover a certain ideology really speaks to them, maybe a religion or a religious view, and they adhere to it, and they follow it, and they’re enjoying, they’re experiencing the joy of that experience, but the very next thing that happens is the sharing of it. “Hey, you’ve got to come listen to this,” or, “Now I believe this. I want you to believe this, too, because this makes me happy and I wasn’t happy before I had this belief. Therefore, you must not be happy unless you also share in this belief,” so now we’re on that second layer.

On the second layer, maybe someone will say, “No, I don’t like that,” or, “That doesn’t interest me,” or it could get more complicated like, “No, that’s stupid. Why would you believe that,” or, “That’s false,” or, “Get away from that. That’s a cult,” or anything along those lines. Now you’re experiencing the shame of sharing the experience of what was bringing you joy. By not separating the two, the pain of the second level, or the second layer, can drastically affect the joy of the first level, the first layer of the experience.

I see this all the time, especially with religious and ideological views. Somebody will feel the joy of their religious system or their belief system, and then they feel tremendous suffering because you don’t share in that with them. It’s unfortunate that the pain of the second layer is affecting their first layer, which is their direct experience with their own belief or their own idea.

I’m sure you’ve seen this and I’m sure you’ve experienced this. Like I said, with little things, going to a movie or finding a good restaurant, that’s one thing, but you’ve probably noticed. If you’re listening to this, it’s possible that you’re not connected to a religion anymore. I know a lot of podcast listeners are in that boat. We have the tendency to want to do the same thing. It’s like, “Well, I used to believe this. Now, I don’t believe that. I’ve found this new way of thinking and this open-mindedness, this liberation from that belief feels really good.” So there we are experiencing the first layer of the experience.

Then, we want to share that with others so we go to someone who doesn’t have our view or maybe has our old view, our old belief, and we’re like, “Hey, just so you know, I left that belief. I left that view, and now I’m here, and now I’m happy. Therefore, you must not be very happy where you are because you can’t possibly know what if feels like to be happy like I am experiencing where I am.” They’ll reject it and say, “No, that’s not … That doesn’t call to me. I’m very happy with my belief,” or anything along those lines. Now, we’re in the same boat backwards as the same example I gave earlier where you’re sharing something that’s very meaningful for you. But at the second level of that experience, the sharing portion of it, it’s affecting you because now you feel offended that they don’t want to listen to you, that they don’t want to consider your view, or that they’ll invalidate your view. They’ll say, “No, your view is wrong because my view is right.” Then, we experience suffering or we experience pain.

What I want to highlight here is that in those moments, you can pause and recognize that the pain or suffering you’re experiencing at that moment in the rejection of the sharing of the experience, it’s a rejection of the sharing, not a rejection of your experience itself, because your experience of whatever is your belief, or your non-belief, or your view, your political opinion, whatever that thing is that makes you feel a certain way, that’s you. That’s on you, and that’s all yours. Nobody else can share that with you. But the moment you want to share that with someone, you’ll experience an additional joy if they share in it with you, and you’ll experience a new form of pain, or suffering, or discontent when they don’t want to share it with you, but you don’t have to allow that to affect your initial experience. I hope that makes sense.

But, while we were in Africa, we would get together in the mornings and we would do meditation sessions and we would do mindfulness classes where we spend time talking about different topics. One of the things I really enjoyed with this group is that we had a lot of people who were experienced in the topic of mindfulness and had wonderful ideas and things to contribute to the discussions that we were having. Now, one of the days when we were talking, one of the girls who was on the trip with us, Pamela [Corky 00:12:27], who became a really good friend of mine … You know how sometimes you meet people and your personalities just mesh, they work really well? She has a sense of humor that really works well with mine.

A lot of people listening to this podcast may not know the dry sense of humor I have because it doesn’t come across in the podcast. It’s not like I spend time joking on here. But meeting with podcasts listeners on a trip like this and getting to know each other much more intimately over the course of two weeks, that’s something that Pamela had highlight to me. She was like, “Wow, it’s really fun to hear your sense of humor and to spend time bouncing jokes back and forth from each other.” She’s a writer, so she has a very witty sense of humor.

But anyway, long story short, this was my quick shout-out to Pamela. Pamela, if you’re listening to this, like I’ve mentioned before, thank you so much for coming on the trip. I want everyone to hear the profound teaching that you shared with us in Africa. We’re talking about this concept, right? Pamela mentions something like when people are sharing something that’s meaningful to them, their opinion, their belief, their ideas, she said something that really stood out to me. When something is shared with her, an experience is shared her and she disagrees with that experience, she said in moments like that she reminds herself that I love things, too, or, you know, if somebody’s sharing with her, “You know what? I really love this new way of thinking. I’ve switched to this political ideology or this new religion, or I went away from this religion and now I found this open secular way of life.” Whatever it is they’re sharing that’s meaningful for them in their experience, if it doesn’t resonate with her or she doesn’t understand it because she’s not in their shoes, she can always empathize by expressing that she loves things, too, right?

I thought that was such a clever and profound to navigate things. If someone’s complaining to you, “Oh, you know, this, this or that,” whether it be about politics, or religion, or any sensitive topic, you can allow them to vent. Even if you don’t agree with that, you can acknowledge, “You know, I hate things, too. There are ideas that I really dislike, too. I know what that’s like.” That’s a way of validating their sharing, the sharing of their experience.

Now, this isn’t about endorsing people, endorsing their ideas, or their views, or their beliefs. This is not about that. This is about having a sense of empathy and the sense that I know what it’s like to be passionate about something, too. It may not be the same thing. I may disagree completely with you, but that’s what I thought was so clever and brilliant about Pamela’s suggestion is that you can say, “I love things, too,” or, “I hate things, too.” That kind of became one of the little inside jokes for the rest of our trip when, you know, if somebody was … In our group, we had vegetarians and we had meat eaters. If a topic came up where it’s like, “Oh, man, this chicken is really good,” or something, maybe one of the vegetarians would be like, “I love things, too,” or backwards. If somebody was having an experience that they weren’t enjoying, like, “Man, I really don’t like this,” but somebody else in the group was thinking that was just fine, they would be able to respond with, “Well, I hate things, too.”

That was a reminder to ourselves throughout the trip that we don’t have to agree on anything, but we all know what it is to love things and to hate things, and to agree with things, and to disagree with things, and we were expressing it in that notion. I thought was a really fun, clever thing that Pamela shared with us on the group, so thank you, Pamela, if you’re listening.

What I want to highlight with this, again, is the pain of the second layer will often ruin the joy of the first layer if we allow it. But the first layer of experience is very personal. As you go through life and you experience things, and you develop ideas, or you get rid of beliefs, or you acquire new beliefs, you do this because you’re having personal experiences, thoughts, emotions, feelings, and these things are yours. They’re yours. The tendency to want to share it is very natural. It’s a very natural thing, a human thing, for us to want to share with each other.

Now, just because somebody wants to share with you doesn’t mean that you’ve got to accept or buy into whatever they’re experience is because it’s just their experience. I think about this with, you know, if just today we had some Jehovah’s Witnesses knocking on our door. They were visiting out upstairs neighbors, but I had this thought, “You know, whatever they’re sharing, whatever they’re passionate about, I may not agree with it at all, but I could say, ‘I’m passionate about things, too.'” You know, if they were to express their pitch of here’s the deal and listen to my message, I genuinely could respond and say, “You know, I’m passionate about things, too. Thank you for sharing that.” Just something to think about.

Especially with people that we care about, I think this can be a really interesting way of looking at things, recognizing that on one layer, at one level or on one layer, I am experiencing life my way. Having beliefs will make me feel a certain, I know this because there was a time in my life when my beliefs made me feel a certain way, a very comforting way. There’s another phase in life where those beliefs were causing discomfort and I didn’t want to feel that anymore. Then, there was a phase where I didn’t have those beliefs anymore, they went away. Then, I was experiencing comfort around the uncertainty of not knowing.

At every stage, there’s always in the back of your mind that inclination to share the other, “Hey, I want you to know how I feel.” This is the same drive that says, “Hey, I need to take a picture of my meal on Instagram so you can see what I’m experiencing.” It’s so hardwired, so ingrained in us to want to share our experience with others. There’s no wonder that when we share our experience is can become a volatile thing. Any of you who are on social media know this. You can share anything of Facebook, like a puppy rescues a baby kitten, and you’re going to have controversy in the comments. There’s now way around it. You can share whatever is meaningful to you, whether that be a philosophy, a religious view, a political view. It doesn’t matter what it is, you’re going to have people who do not agree with it at all, people who are going to be angry that you hold those views or that you don’t hold those view.

It seems like this can be aggravated the closer we are to the people that we’re wanting to share with. Wanting to share my experience with my brothers is one thing. Wanting to share an experience with a coworker, that’s another thing, and friends, and everyone in between. We get more and more sensitive about the reception of what we’re sharing when it’s people closest to us, at least that’s what it seems like to me. If I share something with someone that is close to me, I expect that they will take from the sharing the same thing that I took from the original experience. In other words, I’m expecting that from layer two that they’re going to extract what I got out of layer one, and that’s never going to happen. It’s just impossible.

Keeping this in mind and tying this in with the teaching of the four foundations of mindfulness, it helps us to keep in mind these layers. Whatever experience you’re having, that’s one thing. Don’t allow the sharing of the experience to alter the experience itself. I you took joy from an experience, then you took joy from it. If you didn’t, then you didn’t. So what? But when you share and somebody is disgusted that you didn’t take joy from that experience and now it makes you go back and question the experience, why do that? You already had the experience. This way of thinking allows us to keep these layers separate to experience joy on one layer. Then, if I’m going to experience joy or pain on the second layer when I try to share the experience, so be it, but that’s a whole new layer. I won’t allow the suffering of the second layer to take away from the joy of the first layer.

The expression to keep in mind that I think is really helpful here is, “I love things, too,” or, “I don’t like things either,” or, “I hate things, too,” or, “Things are gross for me, too,” or anything along those lines. You get the idea of that quote, which I think is ingenious. That’s what I wanted to share. This is the podcast episode I’ve prepared for today. Like I mentioned, it’s really good to be back on schedule trying to get podcast episodes out. I have a whole list of topics and I’m going to try to get them all out. So at least for the next little while, I hope to be consistent getting new podcast episodes out, maybe every Monday. At least for now, my goal is every Monday.

Then, I have several thing in the works that I’m excited to announce. I’m not going to tell you the details now, but I have another trip in the works that is going to be an epic, incredible trip. It won’t happen till middle to late next year, 2019, but I’ll give you the details as soon as I have the dates dialed in. I’ve got some fun announcements around the book. I’ve got some fun announcements around the online workshop that I’m still working on that I eventually plan to have available to anyone to take at any time on your own time for free, and a few other little announcements that I’ll mention when the time is right, but that’s all I have for now.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please consider sharing it with others. Oh, there we go, sharing. Keep this in mind, what you get out of this podcast, that’s the first layer, right? That’s on you. Then, when you share it with others, let’s say you try to share it with someone, they’re like, “That’s stupid. Why would I listen to something about Buddhism.” Notice how it makes you feel and recognize how that doesn’t take away from the joy that you experience from listening to it, or backwards. Maybe they’ll say, “Oh, that’s great,” or they’ll come back and say, “Hey, that was awesome. I love listening to this podcast. It’s changed my life. Thank you. You were a direct contributor to that.” You’ll notice how the joy that’s being compounded there is first your joy of listening to the podcast, and second your joy of sharing it and that being well received, but those are two different things. You can notice that. That just popped up in my head because I do mention please share it with others.

Consider writing a review. Give it a rating in iTunes. If you want to join the online community, right now we just have the Facebook group. There’s the Secular Buddhism Facebook Group and the Secular Buddhism Podcast Community, which is a Facebook group that’s a little bit more specific to discussing topics around the podcast rather than secular buddhism in general. I was running the Online Weekly Sangha, but I’ve paused that for now, mostly because I’m still feeling quite behind in trying to get a lot of these projects that I’ve got on my table right now. I have to put that on hold until I can get the book out and several other things done and off the table, so to speak. That’s paused for now. If you want to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, you can visit SecularBuddhism.com and click the donate button. That’s all I have for now. I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. I’m glad to be back with you guys, and until next time.

65 – What Does it Mean to Forgive?

The Buddhist approach to forgiveness is about changing our relationship with the reactive patterns that run our lives. It’s a form of introspection that allows me to understand my reactive patterns and then, more importantly, to change my relationship with those patterns.

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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 65. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m talking about the Buddhist understanding of forgiveness. About a month or two ago, I received a message on Facebook from a gentleman named [Dax 00:00:27]. I meant to respond in depth regarding the question he had. It was around the topic of forgiveness, specifically this notion of feeling compelled to forgive didn’t seem very useful or helpful and he wondered why some spiritual paths seem to focus on this message of having to forgive. Anyway, I didn’t spend a long time replying to his message at the time, because I told him that it had been on my radar to have a podcast episode dedicate specifically to the topic of forgiveness.

Well, several months later I still hadn’t had a chance to record this podcast, so this has been in the works for quite some time now, and then I recently read an article on Tricycle Magazine called Forgiveness Is Not Buddhist. This motivated me to once again take up this topic and try to explain or address the Buddhist perspective on forgiveness. In order to understand the Buddhist approach, first I want to explore the topic of forgiveness from the Western approach that most of us are familiar with. This is the way we view the concept of forgiveness here in our society, and it’s influenced in general by the Judeo-Christian understanding of forgiveness and this is a form of forgiveness that is generally laid out in the language of debt.

For example, think of the example of a bank loan. You go in and you get a loan from the bank, and now you have this relationship established between you and the bank. If the terms of the loan are met, eventually you pay it off and now you no longer owe them, and that relationship changes again. Now you’re not indebted to them. Now, for me, growing up there was a little video that I saw at church that was about a gentleman who borrows money, but ultimately he has a bad year, I guess, as a farmer and he’s not able to pay back his creditor, and the creditor comes calling, demanding justice. This whole video was about how justice cannot be robbed, so the creditor is owed, the debtor is stuck in a position where there’s just no way to pay. Well, then comes an intermediary, so this mediator steps in and assumes the debt. Justice is met for the creditor, because he gets his money back, and mercy is extended to the person who borrowed.

I remember this video was all about how mercy cannot rob justice, and if you look at this from the Judeo-Christian background what this is implying is Jesus, for example, is the one who steps in and assumes the debt, absolving us of that debt. In this sense, it ends the old relationship and it establishes an entirely new relationship, so the situation that we were in is that we need to be saved, right? So Christ comes in and takes in this role as the savior, and establishes a new relationship between us and him now, and this sort of change happens due to that external source, that third party, the intermediary or the mediator. This is problematic from the Buddhist perspective because the power is not with you. The power lies in that third party to come in and step in and save you, so this isn’t a Buddhist concept, like I mentioned before.

From the Buddhist perspective, we’re looking at spending time looking inward and discovering everything that you’re looking for is in you, so I want to elaborate on this a little bit. Ken McLeod, who is the author of that article, Forgiveness Is Not Buddhist from Tricycle Magazine, he says, “These various interpretations of forgiveness all overlook the fact that the meaning of forgiveness is grounded in the language of debt. In days of yore (and, in some cultures, not so yore), when I impugned your honor, I incurred an obligation to you, a debt that had to be paid somehow. From there, the notion developed that when I do any kind of wrong, to you or anyone else, I have incurred a debt, to you or to society or to God. When we view interactions with others in terms of debt, we are, wittingly or unwittingly, reducing our relationships with others to transactions. Human feeling, human understanding, human empathy all go out the door. ‘I owe you’ or ‘You owe me’ now becomes the defining expression of the relationship.”

He goes on to say, “American anthropologist David Graeber writes in Debt: The First 5,000 Years, ‘There’s no better way to justify relations founded on violence, to make such relations seem moral, than by reframing them in the language of debt — above all, because it immediately makes it seem that it’s the victim who’s doing something wrong.'” Again, this way of viewing forgiveness is not necessarily compatible with the Buddhist approach. From the Buddhist approach we strive to look inward. We find that happiness, enlightenment, forgiveness, all these things are internal processes, not external, and one of the central teachings in Buddhism is the understanding of karma as the law of causation.

This implies that no one can intervene in the way my actions evolve me. There is no savior, so to speak, when it comes to my actions, because it’s still entirely up to me to discover the reactive patterns they gave rise to the transgression in the first place, so the Buddhist approach to forgiveness moves away from the language of debt and towards the language of harmony. When you think of forgiveness from the Western approach, it’s transactional in nature, and in the Buddhist approach it’s more along the lines of conflict resolution and reconciliation. In other words, harmony, so to understand forgiveness we have to understand karma.

Remember, karma is not a cosmic justice system. It’s not a form of transitions. There is no account where you accrue positive or negative transitions. It’s not system that’s taking notes. It’s more of a form of evolution of actions. What I did then is what determines what I’m doing now and what I’m doing now determines what I’ll be doing next. The Tibetan teacher Gampopa said, “The only way to stop the evolution of reactive patterns is to change our relationship with those patterns.” To me, this is what forgiveness is all about. It’s an introspective process where the forgiveness that matters most is the forgiveness I extend to myself through the proper understanding of my own actions. It’s a form of introspection that allows me to understand my reactive patterns and then, more importantly, to change my relationship to those patterns.

The Buddhist approach to forgiveness invites us to look deeply, to see deeply in ourselves and others, and let me share three examples of this to help clarify this concept. When we’re talking about forgiveness toward others, this is one of the most common ways that we think about forgiveness, somebody has wronged us and then we decide whether or not we forgive them. Last week I was talking to a coworker, a friend of mine, who was telling the story of a boy who was really mean to her in high school. He would say things that were mean or derogatory, somewhat of a bully, so to speak. This goes on for the entire time that they were classmates in high school, and she said that she was really angry with him.

Over the years she kind of forgot about him, and later found out on Facebook, saw him and found out that he was gay. He had come out and kind of changed his lifestyle to be more open and authentic with who he was, and in this process of discovering what he had gone through, she imagined the high school version of him, still in the closet. She said she could only imagine how difficult that must have been, to be in high school and to be having those feelings of inauthenticity, living a lie. She said, “No wonder he was mean.” Well, in that moment, as she shared this with me, I realized this is what it means to forgive from the Buddhist perspective. In other words, there’s nothing to forgive when you understand. What melted away for her was the feeling of resentment or hatred, even anger, because it was replaced by a deeper perspective of understanding.

Now, that doesn’t excuse what he did and it doesn’t change the fact that he was mean. It doesn’t change the fact that those mean and hurtful things affected her. Maybe caused her to act a certain way or to do certain things, like it had set in motions causes and conditions that continued till this day, so forgiveness from the Buddhist perspective, you can’t go back and change the past, right? Forgiveness is not about condoning or saying, “You know what? Everything that you did, that’s fine,” because it’s not. It’s already happened. Whatever damage happened because of those actions cannot be repaired.

You cannot go back and fix that, but from this moment on she feels no hatred, no resentment, and no anger towards him because she gained a more clear understanding, so this is the form of forgiveness applied to others. From the Buddhist perspective there’s no compelling, right? It’s not like, “Hey, you need to forgive,” but there is this possibility at any given moment that through greater understanding you can have more peace, and I’ve experienced this in my own life. I’ll go into that later in the podcast. This is the approach of forgiveness toward others. We’re trying to understand others, and through that understanding we can let go of the hatred.

Next I want to talk about forgiving ourselves. It’s a similar concept, that we want to look into our own actions. One of the stories that comes to mind for me when I think about this, when I was about 12 I was a boy scout and we would go on these weekly scouting activities, and I remember one time our troupe got together and we were going to go ride go-karts. We went to this place and we all got in line, and when the time came to run out and pick your car, I just happened to pick a car that seemed quite a bit faster than all the other cars. You know, how they tune those and throttle them so that they can’t go over a certain speed. I think mine happened to … somebody messed with that and it was definitely faster than the other cars.

We start the race and we’re going around in loops, and I’m passing everyone. It’s not that I’m the better driver. It’s that the car that I’m in is faster than the other cars. Well, I noticed one of the other cars had a similar thing going on, but in reverse. It was much slower than all the rest of the cars and it seemed no matter what the driver did, his car couldn’t keep up with the rest of us, so not only was I beating everyone in the race, but I was severely beating this poor kid, passing him, as I recall, on multiple occasions. So the race is finally over. This was my friend Kevin who was driving that car. We all go out and it was fun, and then our leaders tell us, “Hey, do you want to do one more round?”

Well, we did. We all jumped back in line and as soon as they opened that gate, we ran out to our cars. I knew which car I wanted and I booked it. Well, Kevin, who had the slow car, had also noticed this pattern that my car was fast and his car was slow, so he was running towards my car and I was able to get there just ahead of him and kind of nudged him, almost like with my shoulder, kind of nudged him out of the way and I said, “No, this was my car. This is the car that I had.” He backed off and he turned around to look for his car, or any car, I should say. The only car left happened to be the slow one that he had the first round and everybody in the group knew that that was the slow car. They didn’t want it and they had all picked other cars by then, so Kevin walked slowly, defeated, back towards his go-kart.

I remember that feeling of, “Oh, man. That was not very nice,” but I stayed in my car. We did the other round, and I won again and I was all excited about that, but not really. I felt bad, and unfortunately this feeling lingered for years, because after that we moved. I moved down to Mexico with my family. We had been childhood friends, and this incident stayed with my mind for years. Well, fast forward, I don’t know, 10 years or so, my twin brother ends up marrying Kevin’s sister, so suddenly we were family again. Well, we were friends that were going to be close now, and this incident always lingered with me.

One day I finally brought it up to him and I apologized all these years later. I said I was so sorry for what happened that day on the go-kart and he didn’t even remember the story. I had to remind him of the whole thing. So getting to this concept of forgiving ourselves, rather than me just saying, “Oh, well, I was just a kid and whatever,” I tried to sit with this and say, “What caused those actions?” What was fascinating is out of that process came a lot of introspection about myself. Why did I feel the need to win again? Why did I fear being stuck in that slow car? What would that say about me?

I replayed all of these things and I was able to look into my actions, which is kind of what the Buddhist approach to all of this is trying to do. Like I mentioned before, we’re trying to understand our relationship to our habitual patterns. Well, this incident in my life allowed me on multiple occasions since then to evaluate my actions. What am I about to do and why am I doing this? Is there something else driving this specific action? I think a lot of that stemmed from that process early on of trying to understand the behavior and the patterns that allowed me to do that to Kevin, so that’s just one simple example of forgiving ourselves.

Then there’s the third type. So we’ve got forgiveness toward others, forgiveness toward ourselves, and then we have forgiveness that we receive from others or from … yeah, forgiveness from others. This is a form of a peace that we receive. To me, this one is just kind of icing on the cake because we may or may not receive this, because this is entirely out of our hands, right? If others choose to forgive us, that’s a decision they make and we can’t force that on them. Recently I was talking to a friend and I thought of this analogy of … he was kind of upset because he had done something that hurt somebody else, and then he had asked for forgiveness and he felt like things should be okay now.

I said, “Well, sometimes wanting the other person to heal, it’s like picking at a scab.” It’s a wound, right? Then you’ve got the scab and you’re picking at it to see, “Hey, is this healed yet?” And you pick at it and you pick at it, and the very picking is what prevents it from healing, because we don’t control that timeframe. It happens on its own. We just want others to forgive us because of how we feel. We don’t like the discomfort. we really just want to feel understood. In this sense, forgiveness is the gift of understanding, so this allows us to again look inward and ask, “Why do I feel the need to be forgiven by someone else for whatever wrong I’ve caused? What if I was able to allow them to forgive me on their timeframe, whenever they want, if and when they want? What if they never want to forgive me for whatever actions I’ve done? What if I was okay with that?” There’s a form of peace that comes from that as well.

Those are the three kind of areas of forgiveness, but ultimately what I want to get at is that forgiveness in a way, from the Buddhist perspective, it’s the gift of understanding, because see, when we understand, we don’t need to forgive. The irony here is that we forgive when we realize we don’t need to forgive. You know, in nature, if lightning strikes a tree and the tree catches fire, and then it falls over and crushes our car, we don’t have this sense of, “Oh, I need to forgive that tree or I need to forgive the lightning.” Or when it rains on us, we don’t feel the need to, “Oh, I need to forgive the clouds because it rained and it ruined my day or it ruined my clothes.” Who do we forgive and for what? What debt have we incurred? This is more along the lines of the Buddhist understanding.

From the Buddhist perspective there is no moral commandment or no compelling of any kind to forgive. There’s no Buddhist equivalent of sin. There’s especially no original sin. There’s no offending god. There’s no concept of god. So furthermore, forgiveness is for our own sake. Gaining a deeper understanding of things is a gift that we give ourselves. It’s a way to let go of the pain we are experiencing, but we are the main beneficiaries. If you’ll recall, I talked about Buddhaghosa and his teaching of the hot ember, that you can hold a hot ember with the intent of throwing it at someone else, but while you’re holding it, it’s only affecting you, or he talks about picking up a piece of dung, a piece of poop with the intention of making somebody else stink.

Well, while I’m holding that, I’m the one who stinks. I’m making myself stink because I won’t let go of the dung. This is more along the lines of how the Buddhist perspective on forgiveness, it’s like, well, you don’t have to, but why wouldn’t you? You’re the only one who suffers when you hold on to this stuff? So forgiveness is more along the lines of deeper understanding. It’s a change in our relationship to our own reactive patterns. No matter what I did to you, it’s still entirely my own responsibility to discover and work through the reactive patterns that gave rise to that offense or transgression in the first place, so it puts this back on me. It’s all on me.

Sometimes it seems forgiveness is seen as a sign of weakness. It’s like, “Oh, you’re soft, you’re going to forgive,” but in reality it takes strength and it takes courage to spend time gaining a deeper understanding of our own actions and the actions of others. Forgiving can bring about the peace that we all so desperately seek, but it’s not because we absolve others of their actions; it’s because we spend time trying to understand others. The wrong understanding of forgiveness, I think gives rise to more suffering. An example that I’ll give you from my own life was a deep betrayal of trust that I experienced from somebody that I care for and I love deeply, and to be betrayed, to be lied to, it’s very hurtful.

Part of my experience of going through a betrayal was that I felt the need to forgive. I felt compelled. I felt like it was the requirement for this relationship to be able to continue or to be healthy. I felt like, in the language of debt, that I was owed and something had to happen for this debt to be re-payed, so I kind of viewed it like this for years. I held on to resentment and then I would think, “It’s finally all over. I’ve forgiven,” and then a trigger would cause me to experience all of the emotions all over again, and I would realize, “No, I’m still angry and I’m not ready to forgive.” This was kind of the cycle of emotions that I was experiencing for quite some time.

Well, it occurred to me one day, through studying mindfulness and studying Buddhism, that I had personalized this experience. I made it about me, that what happened was we are going to collaborate and really do something to hurt you, as if this had to do with me. This had to do with them and the decisions that were made there and this betrayal, so I spent time processing this and really trying to understand the intentions and the motivations behind the actions of the people who had wronged me. By spending time doing this, what happened is I gained a deeper understanding of the person in some ways as a victim of their own actions. You know, I don’t think that the intention of those actions was targeting me personally. Now, I was certainly on the receiving end of that pain and hurt, but it wasn’t about me.

Then this continued to unfold as I spent time understanding this person and understanding the possible causes and conditions that led to that, and the causes and conditions behind those causes and conditions, and with time it painted an entirely new picture of how I viewed this person and I couldn’t view them through this lens of hatred or resentment or anger the way that I did before. Now, none of that changed the feelings and the emotions of being hurt or being betrayed or being let down. None of that changed, but what changed was my understanding of this person as the tail end of countless causes and conditions that allowed that one instance, that one moment to arise the way that it did, and that was a profound shift in perspective for me.

At that point I didn’t feel the need to forgive anymore, because what was there to forgive? What I saw was actions, causes and conditions, and causes and conditions of causes and conditions, and on and on and on, this giant web of interdependent things that happened for that one moment to be the way that it was for however long that phase was in my life. That was really profound, and through that understanding I lost. It’s not that I forgave. It’s that I lost the anger. I lost the hatred. It just wasn’t there anymore because I couldn’t hate. I understood too much to be able to hate this person, and that was the moment that I felt this entire process was finally over.

I had truly forgiven, and the irony is I didn’t forgive. There was no need to forgive at that point. That’s when I realized I had forgiven is because what was there to forgive? I don’t know if that makes sense. If you’ve ever experienced something like that where through greater understanding there’s no longer the need to forgive, that’s what I felt. You know, we’ve all been hurt and we’ve all hurt others. Whether we did that knowingly or unknowingly, it’s true. Whether I was rushing while I was driving and cut someone off and I set in motion further actions, I may have been completely unaware of that. Or bigger stuff. The things that I said to kids in school that I don’t remember.

Whether this is knowingly or unknowingly, we’ve all been hurt and we’ve all hurt others, so the Buddhist approach to forgiveness really is about changing our relationship with the reactive patterns that run our lives. It’s just another tool to help end the cycle of habitual reactivity and the suffering that our reactivity causes for ourselves and others. I think this is really the main difference here. There’s no compelling. You don’t have to forgive, but why wouldn’t you? You’re the one that suffers when you don’t. Now, that’s where it gets tricky because then it would feel like, “Well, then now I have to forgive.” That’s the paradox. You don’t, but the peace and the contentment that you’ll feel upon gaining greater understanding, that’s the reward. That’s the benefit of it.

I guess from the Buddhist perspective, instead of feeling like I need to forgive others, the invitation is, try to understand. Whatever it is that happened, don’t entertain the, “How can I forgive you?” If anything, ask yourself, “How can I understand this better? Why did this happen? What were the causes and conditions? What is the reactivity?” Whether this is for yourself or for others, that’s where you want to spend time with, understanding. Try to understand more. Now, for me, I like to ask specific questions, introspective questions with my behavioral patterns. For example, am I motivated by vengeance? Am I trying to get back at someone? If someone is hurt or offended by something I’ve done or said, I ask myself, “What were my words or actions and what were the intentions behind those words and actions?” Because there’s always something to learn there.

If I can discover what the intentions were, I may even be able to discover what the intention behind the intention was, because you are entirely responsible for your conscious choices, and knowing this can be very empowering. Everything that you do affects others. This is karma. Everything that I do, everything that I say affects others, and that for me is really empowering, so this concept of forgiveness from the Buddhist perspective, maybe forgiveness is the word that’s problematic because it means something different to so many people. Some people will say, “Well, forgiveness is great,” and they’re right. And some people will say, “Well, forgiveness is wrong. It causes pain.” Well, they’re also right, so maybe reframing this and understanding what we want is greater understanding. When we understand interdependence, that all things inter-are, this gives us the ability to see deeply. Like I mentioned in a previous podcast, to see, “Here’s the thing, but what’s the thing behind the thing? What’s the thing behind the thing behind the thing?” That is the topic of forgiveness.

I want to end this topic with a quick note about friendship. Well, good friends are instrumental in this process of forgiveness. We should regard those who point out our faults as treasures. In fact, the Buddha in the Dhammapada said, “Should you find a wise critic to point out your faults, follow him as you would a guide to a hidden treasure.” I want to end it on that note, because as we go through our lives and especially on this path where we’re trying to be more mindful, we should be mindful of the fact that having somebody who can point out our faults, and this is often the people closest to us, our family members, our spouse or partner or significant other, when they do point stuff out to us, we take it personally, and we get really upset and we get angry because we don’t want people to highlight these things about ourselves. Yet we have this treasure there, in a way. You know, what if you were to view this as an opportunity to become more introspective about yourself by learning what someone else has seen about you?

This was pretty powerful for me. I used to really hate the feeling of being told, “Hey, you need to do this,” or, “Stop doing that,” or, “You’re not helping a lot with chores around the house,” or things like that. I would feel kind of upset and offended, but as time as gone past this has become something that I value now. It’s like, I want to be told, “How can I be better? In what areas can I contribute more? Where do I need more clarity with what I’m doing wrong?” And you get that from the people close to you if you ask for it, and this can be one of the ways where you really learn about yourself and you become more aware of your habitual patterns. Anyway, I thought that would be a fun way to end the topic forgiveness.

If you want to read up a little bit more about this topic, there’s a book by Ken McLeod called Wake Up To Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention. In that book he discusses this concept of forgiveness. You can also, if you’re a subscriber to Tricycle Magazine, you can look up that article called Forgiveness Is Not Buddhist. But that’s the topic that I wanted to share today, forgiveness, and I hope that you can take some of these ideas and concepts, and look at them deeply in your own life or in the lives of others, and wherever you feel that need of, “There’s this person or that person or this event that I need to eventually forgive,” try to reframe that in your mind and rather than thinking you need to forgive anyone about anything, try to say, “I want to have to more understanding about what happened. What did it happen? what were the causes and conditions?”

Because I believe that with introspection and understanding and clarity, suddenly you realize maybe there’s nothing to forgive; there’s just what happened. Then you’ll have that same peace, that same sense of liberation that comes through truly forgiven, but it’s not concocted and it’s not fake and it’s not temporary. In my experience with forgiveness, every time I thought I had forgiven, it was temporary even though I didn’t know that. At that point a trigger or something would come back and I’d realize, “No, I haven’t forgiven,” but through understanding that’s gone away. There’s nothing that triggers those emotions the way that that used to when I would think about that specific incident that happened to me in my life, because there’s no longer the need to forgive. I had something better. I had understanding and clarity around what happened, but that was uncomfortable to get to that because you do have to spend time with it, and really break it down and analyze it and look at it and ask yourself those difficult questions. Why did this happen? I hope this clarifies a little bit the Buddhist understanding of forgiveness.

If you enjoyed this podcast episode, please share it with other. You can write a review, give it a rating in iTunes. If you would like to join our online community, you can visit secularbuddhism.com/community, and if you would like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit secularbuddhism.com and click the Donate button. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

64 – We Don’t Need to Change Ourselves

In this episode, I will discuss the concept of inherent perfection and how from the Buddhist perspective, that implies that we don’t need to change ourselves. The idea of “perfection” from the Buddhist perspective is not a moral qualification. There is no “should” or compelling in ethical or moral behavior because your inherent nature is kindness and goodness.

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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 The Secular Buddhism Podcast. This is episode number 64. I am your host, Noah Rasheta. The topic for the podcast episode today is we don’t need to change ourselves. Recently, I’ve been sharing snippets of teachings from Pema Chödrön, a Tibetan Buddhist nun, who teaches. She’s an American who teaches Buddhism from the Tibetan tradition. There is a book called The Pocket Pema Chödrön by Shambhala Pocket Classics. It’s a small book that contains short teachings. I’ve been sharing some of these teachings on the Facebook group, The Secular Buddhism Podcast community Facebook group. I wanted to share one of the discussions that took place around one of the teachings.

The teaching that I shared from Pema, this is quoting her, says, “When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It’s like saying, ‘If I jog, I’ll be a much better person. If I could only get a nicer house, I’d be a better person. If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.'” Or the scenario may be that they find fault with others. They might say, “If it weren’t for my husband, I’d have a perfect for marriage. If it weren’t for the fact that my boss and I can’t get along, my job would be great. If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.”

Loving kindness, or maitri, as it’s called in the Tibetan tradition, toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we already are. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now just as we are. That’s the ground. That’s what we study. That’s what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest. That was the snippet of the teaching that I shared from Pema, which is a wonderful little teaching on this concept of not needing to change ourselves.

Then I posed the question or the challenge for the day, which was, “What if you could accept yourself and others just the way you or they are right now? No need to change anything.” Sure, you can still strive for change, but that happens because you can change, not because you should change. In a past podcast episode, I talked about this shifting from should to can. What if you really saw yourself, others, and life as inherently perfect just the way you are right now? What would that feel like? This opened up a discussion in the Facebook group that I thought was a wonderful little discussion. One of the questions that arose in this discussion, which I think is a really good point to clarify, comes from Callie. Callie, thank you, if you’re listening, thank you for interacting on the Facebook group and posting this question so we could elaborate on this concept a little bit more.

Callie said, “I believe this perspective is very valuable, but only to a point. The power of changing should to can is immensely liberating, but surely at some point, moral imperatives must also come into play. For example, if I frequently lash out in physical violence at my husband and children, how can that be considered inherently perfect?” This is a really good point that Callie brings up, the idea of if we talk about not needing to change, how can we talk about a concept like inherent perfection when there are a lot of people out there who could surely be better than they are now. I wanted to discuss this a little bit in this podcast. The idea of perfection from the Buddhist perspective, it’s not a moral qualification. There is no should or compelling in ethical or moral behavior from the Buddhist perspective because, from that same perspective, your inherent nature is kindness and goodness.

If you think about this for a second, this is the understanding that we are physically hardwired to be receptive to kindness and to goodness. For example, as humans, when a human is born, from that stage of being a baby and growing, think of how many years it takes before a human being can live all on their own. We require the care and the kindness and compassion of others for a significant portion of our lives. It’s a survival mechanism. In this sense, we are hardwired to receive and to respond to loving kindness, to the care of others. It’s innate in us. Again, from the Buddhist perspective, rather than saying that you should be kind, the Buddhist approach is to gain more insight or understanding into the mental conditioning that may be preventing one from experiencing that inherent nature. The idea here is that if we start out inherently kind or inherently receptive to kindness and compassion, something happens along the way as we grow that starts to, I guess you could say muddies that innate nature in us. It gets covered up. The concept of being inherently perfect is to say that you already have in you the ability to not be physically or verbally violent. It’s just a matter of discovering what conditioning is causing the unnatural behavior.

As an illustration to this point, there’s a story in Buddhism of a golden Buddha statue in a monastery in Thailand that was once covered in clay and mud to hide it from an invading army. The monks who did this, they covered up this golden Buddha statue, they never returned to the monastery. Maybe they were killed off. The point is they never returned. The golden statue remained hidden under clay for decades, perhaps even centuries. At some point, new monks occupied the monastery and they never knew the secret truth of this clay Buddha. Many years later, a monk was cleaning the statue and he chips off a piece of the clay only to reveal the true nature of the statue. It was a gold statute all along. In a similar way, the Buddhist view of humanity is that we are like this golden Buddha, inherently perfect but often covered in the clay of mental conditioning, often in the form of bad ideas, harmful believes, hurtful concepts.

This conditioning drives a lot of our thoughts and actions. Yet, at our core, we are inherently perfect because our true nature, when uncovered, when peeled away, when the conditioning is peeled away, we’re already enlightened. This is why, from the Buddhist perspective, the paradox of wanting to become enlightened is that you can’t become something that you already are. I think this is why Pema talks about not needing to change ourselves. In that sense, there is nothing to change. There are only layers of conditioning to peel away. The irony is that as those layers of conditioning peel away, our way of being certainly changes, but who we are at the core doesn’t necessarily change. That’s a foundational piece that we’ve always been. From the Buddhist perspective, this is called Buddha nature. This is your inherent nature. That’s why from this line of thinking, from this perspective, it’s appropriate to say we don’t need to change ourselves.

Remember, the aim of Buddhism is to help us to understand the nature of reality, the nature of ourselves, to let the nature of suffering, and to let go of the causes of suffering. This process starts with taking a critical look at how we see the world, perhaps more importantly, how we see ourselves. This is where this concept of we don’t need to change ourselves comes from. When we really look closely at ourselves, the nature of who and how we are, we discover through this lens that there really is no need to change ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen Buddhist monk, says that the secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas, all concepts, in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself. This is quote I’ve always enjoyed because, to me, what this evokes is that sense of just visualize the clay statute.

The wisdom of Buddhism is that it’s the peeling away is the process that takes place, peeling away the layers of clay to uncover what’s really there. What we’re doing when we do this process with ourselves, as an introspective contemplative practice, you’re looking inward. What you’re seeing is I’m covered in this clay of concepts, ideas, and beliefs, opinions, all of these conceptualized ways of being. It’s not about adding more to that. This is why, from the Buddhist perspective, wisdom isn’t about gaining knowledge, it’s about unlearning. It’s about unlearning our concepts. Like Thich Nhat Hanh says, the secret of Buddhism is to remove the concepts. You start to peel away these concepts and these layers and these ideas that you have about the world, about others, and specifically about yourself. In this process, what you start to discover is what’s been there all along, this inherent nature to be kind, to be compassionate, because we’re all hardwired for that.

That clarifies a little bit this teaching, this line of thinking in Buddhism of we don’t need to change ourselves. If you think about this for a moment, just think about ingrained it is in our society, this concept of change. Everything that we see in marketing and advertising is telling us that there’s something that needs to change. When you buy this product, that’s when you’ll finally be happy. That’s when you’ll be the better version of yourself. You know, when you lose weight, that’s when you’ll finally be you. When you look this way or that way, that’s when you’ll finally be who you’re meant to be. That’s the illusion. What Buddhism is saying is, hey, that’s all based on a conceptualized belief, the belief that there’s how am I and how I should be and they’re not matching. Until I become who I think I should be, I’m not capable of being content with who I am. Buddhism is trying to switch that and say you can only ever be who you are.

We talk about this all the time. Wherever you are, that’s where you are. The idea of getting there is an illusion because you get there and there is no there there. You get there and there’s now here. It’s always here and it’s always now. You can not escape that. That same line of thinking goes into how you view yourself. You’re always going to be you. The you that you are is the only you that you’ll ever be. Now, that’s not to say that you’re not going to change. You’re absolutely going to change. One of the things that we discover about the nature of reality is continual change. This is the whole teaching of impermanence. Things are always changing. You can see this clearly by looking back and seeing who you are now compared who you were a year ago or five or 10 years ago, at any given point in your past. Go further and you start to see really drastic changes. The five-year-old you versus the you that’s listening to this podcast now, it’s not the same you at all, almost in any way.

We’re presented this idea in our society that we need to change. We’re always trying to become the version of ourselves that we think is the most authentic version. The truth is there isn’t one. I mean, the one that’s always you is the one that’s always you. The one that’s in the present, in the here and now, that’s the only one. I want to extend this line of thinking a little bit more with another concept that I want to share from an email that I received from Donna. Donna is a skydiver. She interacts in our Facebook community. Really cool person. I’ve interacted with Donna a few times. Donna, if you’re listening to this podcast episode, thank you for the past interactions and the discussions that we’ve had by email furthering or clarifying some of these concepts.

Something that Donna brought up while we’re on this line of impermanence and interdependence, you know, I’ve shared on several occasions this teaching that starts with Thich Nhat Hanh where he talks about how if you’ve ever seen a flower and all you saw was the flower, you’ve never actually seen the flower, and then goes on to talk about how the flower is made up entirely of non-flower elements. To see the flower, you have to see the sun, you see the clouds, you see the rain, the soil, the mud, everything that it takes for a flower to be a flower. You see it’s made up entirely of non-flower elements. That is a very powerful visual teaching of the idea of interdependence. This line of thinking I want to expound upon a little bit.

This starts from an email that I received from Donna. Donna was talking about this concept and saying how helpful or how useful that is, the teaching of looking at the flower. In her case, it didn’t necessarily hit home or really click until she applied that way of seeing to people. In this case, it was a coworker. She mentioned sometimes with certain people come across like they’re just out to make your life miserable. In this case, she kind of mentions this example of someone who seems like their goal is just to be annoying. For her, this radical shift happened when she was able to see the person in the same light of seeing the flower. What are all of the non-person elements in this person? That’s where it really starts to hit home and it really starts to make an impact in how you see yourself and how you see others.

This reminds me of a concept that I’ve been playing with in my head with the idea of seeing deeply or deep seeing. In our society, we’ve all heard of deep listening, the idea that you listen past what’s being said and you hear what’s being said in conjunction with where these words are coming from, what could be causing this. This is really useful in relationships to practice deep listening. I like the idea of deep seeing. The idea of deep seeing implies that whatever it is I’m looking at, and I think this covers listening too, but whatever that thing is that’s happening, it’s either a coworker saying something to you or a person, your spouse or partner saying something to you, whatever the instance is that’s taking place, to see deeply means I’m going to look through space and time. In terms of space, I see interdependence. In terms of time, I see impermanence.

What that means is let’s say somebody says something to you that rubs you the wrong way. Now, in that moment, you can see that for what it is. Hear the words and I don’t like this makes me feel, that’s the instance, that’s the experience that’s unfolding. Now, to see deeply, I would spend just a brief moment thinking, “What did it take for this moment to arise in terms of time first?” You could say, “Well, what events in the past have led to this moment, to this person saying what they did?” It could be on a smaller scale of time. It could be, “Did they wake up in a bad mood? Did they not have breakfast today? Did a car cut them off on their drive to work? What kind of small scale things may have contributed to this instance unfolding the way that it’s unfolding?” You can go back further in time and imagine, “Is this how this person was raised? Is this a thought that was taught to them by their parents?” Where do you really draw the line and say, “Okay. That’s what’s causing this person to say what they’re saying right now or to do what they’re doing right now in terms of time”?

The point here is that this exercise allows you to see that the experience that’s unfolding, there’s much more to it than that present moment. There’s pretty much everything that’s ever happened in the past that’s led to this moment. That softens the intensity of the moment as it’s unfolding in the present, the experience of the present. That’s in terms of time. Now, you do this in terms of space, interdependence, and you have this same thing. You take this event and what was just said and you start connecting it to all the things that allow this thing to be unfolding the way that it is like you would the flower. There’s the flower that’s the present moment experience, but then what allows that to be what it is in terms of space? Well, with the flower, you’ve got the sun and the rain and the clouds and all of those processes. You do that with people too. As the experience in the present moment unfolds, try to go back and look at space and time and permanence and interdependence and what should happen is, in that moment, you realize there is so much more to this than whatever this is. Somebody’s here. They’re insulting me, there’s so much more to this. They don’t even know that. They are the culmination of all of these causes and conditions. They may not even realize that.

That’s kind of the idea that Donna was talking about, which I really like. It’s taking the concept of the flower and applying it to people and applying it to yourself. I think this correlates pretty well with the concept of we don’t need to change ourselves because when we see ourselves as we truly are, interdependent with all of these other non-you elements, you start to see the bigger picture. When you do the same in terms of time, you start to see the impermanent nature of who you are. You start to see that the illusion of a permanent self is truly an illusion because there’s no aspect of us that is permanent. Everything about us is impermanent, constantly changing, and, furthermore, completely interdependent with everything else. What we have in that moment is a more appropriate view of ourselves in terms of the nature of reality. That’s what Buddhism is trying to get at. That’s what Thich Nhat Hanh, again, with the secret of Buddhism is to remove all ideas and all concepts in order for the truth to have a chance to penetrate, to reveal itself.

If you want to discover the truth about yourself, try to remove the concepts and the ideas that you have about yourself and just look there for a minute and see what you see. See how that feels. What you should discover in this is exactly what Pema is talking about. In seeing that, you discover that we do not need to change ourselves. We are inherently perfect just the way that we are. Then you can ask, “Now what? Now that this is what I see and this is exactly how it is, what am I going to do about it?” Because is inevitable. That’s the irony. Change is inevitable. It will happen, but you’re not fighting against it. You’re just going with the flow. You’re an impermanent, interdependent entity in an impermanent, interdependent world and you’re going with the flow. That’s the line of thought that holds up this concept of why we don’t need to change ourselves.

That’s what I wanted to share. It all stems from a discussion that took place on the Facebook group. I’ve been posting these things every day. Every day there’s a new teaching, a new line of thought. It’s been fun to engage with many of you in the Facebook group, expanding a little bit on these ideas. I’m really happy to be back to this format of the podcast where I’m just sharing a specific teaching that stands out to me or a concept and then expanding a little bit. As you know, the past several episodes have all been interviews and they all kind of stacked up. I guess what I should have done is just had those spaced out because now I don’t have any interviews scheduled. That’s fine. I’ve mentioned this before. I don’t want to switch to the interview format. I just wanted to have occasional interviews that I’d throw on the podcast. In the future, I will space those out. It might be one a month or maybe one every two months. What I do want to do more often is, at least once a week, give you this kind of podcast episode, a shorter topical-based podcast episode like I’d done in the past.

This is what I’ve got for today. The challenge or question I’d like to leave with you, as I mentioned in the discussion, is: What if you accepted yourself and others just the way that you and they are right now, understanding that there’s no need to change? Again, sure, change is going to happen and it will happen because it can happen. That’s the nature of it. What if you removed that sense of should out of the equation of change? Things will change but they shouldn’t have to change. They just will. What if you really saw yourself and others and life itself as inherently perfect just the way that you are right now, just the way that life is right now? Try to uncover the layers of conditioning, that clay that hides the inherent nature of how you really are, how someone else really is. Try to peel away those layers and see someone how they really are.

Now, here, one of the interesting things is you may understand this about someone and that changes the way that you see them, but they may still see themselves as, “I’m just made out of clay.” You see them differently because you say, “Yeah, but I know what’s underneath that clay.” Just explore that concept a little bit and see what that feels like when you extend that view onto someone else. Where this gets really powerful is when you can extend this view onto yourself, the way you view yourself. Suddenly, there’s this peace and acceptance of you are just how you are. Those are the ideas that I wanted to share with you. Hopefully, if you enjoyed this podcast episode, you’ll be willing to share it with others, write a review, give it a rating on iTunes.

If you’d like to join our online community, visit SecularBuddhism.com/community. There, you’ll find the link to the Facebook group. If you’re not interested in joining the Facebook group, you can always join our online weekly sangha. That’s done through a program called Zoom. Sunday mornings, people call in or we have a video conference where we practice meditation. Then there’s a topic or a discussion that’s shared at the end of that. That’s another community you can join. Both of those options are available on SecularBuddhism.com/community. If you’d like to make a donation to support the work I’m doing with the podcast, please visit SecularBuddhism.com and click on the donate button. That’s all I have for now, but I look forward to recording another podcast episode soon. Until next time.

63 – Mindful Eating – A Discussion with Paige Smathers

Like breathing, eating is one of the most common things we do, but how mindful are we of this process? How mindful are we of our relationship with food? In this podcast episode, I will discuss the topic of mindful eating with Paige Smathers, host of the Nutrition Matters podcast. We talk about mindful eating, our relationship with food, and how we can gain insight and wisdom by becoming more mindful about eating. I hope you enjoy this podcast episode.

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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 63. I am your host Noah Rasheta and today I’m sharing the audio of an interview/discussion I had with Paige Smathers on the topic of mindful eating.

Paige is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She has a degree in dietetics and she’s the host of a popular podcast called Nutrition Matters and I wanted to speak to her on the topic of eating, specifically mindful eating because eating like breathing is one of those things that we just have to do and we do it oftentimes without really thinking about it because it becomes a mundane process. And where we can access breathing as a tool to become more mindful, something that we do every day, all day nonstop, we can focus our attention on and gain tremendous insight. That’s why there are meditations all about breathing, focusing on your breath.w

Well, the same is true with eating. It’s one of those things that we have to do, we do it all the time and we have a relationship with eating whether we’re aware of it or not. Sometimes it’s a healthy or an unhealthy relationship. And these are some of the concepts that Paige and I talk about in this podcast. So we talk about mindful eating. What she calls intuitive eating and the concept of weight neutrality, the idea that body image is something that is conceptual. We have an image in our mind that tells us this is how I should look, this is how I should look and I’m going outside of health here, not just what is healthy or what is not healthy but I’m saying what is ideal, what is not a deal and these are concepts.

And we talk about concepts a lot in Buddhist teachings because the moment we have a concept, an idea, a belief, it blinds us to all of the alternative possibilities because now we’re focused on this thing that we think is how things should be, how life should be, how I should be, how I should look. So we talk about these concepts in this podcast interview.

We talk about healing our relationship with food. How we have relationships with everything that we interact with and food is not an exception to that. Beyond eating just to survive there is an actual relationship that we have with the process of eating. Some people enjoy the process, others don’t. So we’ll talk a little bit about that and how we can gain insight about our relationship with food and overall how we can be more mindful as we eat.

I’ve had this experience, I’m sure all of you had, when you eat sometimes you just eat because you know you need to but you’re not focusing on it. You’re on your phone, you’re thinking about what’s going to happen later in the day. It’s just something you get done and out of the way and then you move on. But how often do we really pause and think about what’s happening while we’re eating. The process, the flavors, the texture. It’s a lot like what we do with breathing, right, we just take it for granted and we do it but we don’t pause and really experience what is happening as we breathe or in this case what is happening as we eat.

So these are some interesting topics and we talk about this in the podcast. And then towards the end we talk about how we are partnering to do a mindful eating workshop, April seventh in Salt Lake City. It’s an all day workshop. And you can learn more about that workshop by visiting mindfuleatingworkshop.com in that workshop we will be addressing a couple of specific topics. The concept of suffering and dieting, the topic of impermanence and all or nothing thinking when it comes to food and learning how to practice eating meditation or mindful eating. We’ll go over specific techniques, we’ll practice it there because lunch is included in the workshop. We’ll talk about interdependence and connection and we’ll finish off the workshop with a module on the art of living, the art of eating and essentially the healing or gaining insight into our relationship with food.

So it’s going to be a neat workshop that couples the concept of eating, something that we all do every day with mindfulness. So it’s a mindfulness workshop but it’s centered around concepts like intuitive eating and mindful eating. So, if that’s a topic you’re interested you can learn more about that on mindfuleatingworkshop.com and you can take $50 off of the registration for that workshop if you use the coupon code secularbuddhism, all lowercase, all one word to check out, when you check out for purchasing a ticket for this workshop.

So this is a workshop that’s done by Paige Smathers, host of Nutrition Matters Podcast and I am partnering with her so we will both be teaching and presenting at this workshop and I’d love to see some of you there if mindful eating is a topic you’re interested in learning more about.

So, without further ado, enjoy the audio of the interview I had with Paige Smathers. I think you’ll find some useful information in this exchange and in this discussion. Thank you.

Paige Smathers:                   Oh, Noah, thanks for having me, this is so fun, I love it.

Noah Rasheta:                      I think of all the podcast interviews that I’ve done, you are the closest to me in distance. We’re maybe less than an hour drive away but we’re still doing this online because that’s the easy way to do that.

Paige Smathers:                   It is, it is the easiest way. I often tell sometimes my local people I interview, I’m like let’s just do it via Skype, it’s just easier for whatever program.

Noah Rasheta:                      Cool. Well I’m excited to have you on the show because this is a topic that I think is really interesting. The idea of mindful eating. The work that you do on your podcast and you consult with people individually. You do something called intuitive eating. Tell me a little bit about what that is and how did you get into all of this?

Paige Smathers:                   It’s sometimes not super intuitive to explain what intuitive eating is. Sometimes people don’t really like the word but it’s the best way I have to describe sort of this non diet approach to nutrition, where you kind of recognize that dieting doesn’t really get you where you want to be. By dieting I mean restricting certain things and only eating certain things and calling foods good and bad and trying to manipulate your body. It creates a really chaotic relationship with food.

So what I try to teach my clients that I work with individually and people who listen to my podcast, what we talk about there, is talking about kind of how to reconnect back to your body’s innate wisdom when it comes to hunger cues and fullness and really being able to connect with what feels good in your body and just kind of take all the morality about nutrition out of the picture and to really try to connect with what’s right for you in each moment.

There are so many principles of mindfulness that really connect well to what I teach for intuitive eating in my practice.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I was just going to say that’s the first thing that stood out to me when I came across this concept and the first time you and I spoke about it was that it parallels the mindfulness approach to like happiness. You chase after one thing or you chase away the other thing suffering or discontent and it’s the chasing that gets you into trouble. I like the wording that you use, the morality of it, deciding this feeling is good, this feeling is bad so I want more of this feeling less of that feeling. And I think from what you’re saying we do the same thing with food and our approach to eating.

Paige Smathers:                   We totally do, especially in our culture that’s really diet obsessed and thin obsessed or muscular obsessed, whatever angle you want to take, there’s just so many pressures on us to look a certain way which you really can’t talk about food without talking about body image. So a lot of the ideas of whether you want to call it mindfulness or even acceptance and commitment therapy or secular Buddhism even come up in sessions with clients where we’re talking about themes of acceptance and that happiness trap that you mentioned and so many themes that really resonate with the secular Buddhism, you know, the stuff that you do with secular Buddhism.

Noah Rasheta:                      Well, that’s cool and what I like with eating in general is that it mirrors, the concept of being mindful about eating to me mirrors the idea of being mindful about breathing. And with mindfulness we start with breathing because that’s the foundation of what keeps us alive and it’s something so simple and so basic and yet we’re rarely mindful of breathing. What does it really feel like to breathe. It’s like we just, we’re on autopilot and it seems like maybe we do the same with eating which ironically is the other thing that we have to do that we cannot live without and it’s a foundation of survival and I think we approach it in the same way that we do breathing sometimes where it’s like it’s just something we do but we don’t think about it. Is that right?

Paige Smathers:                   Yeah. I think that there’s definitely people who don’t really think about their eating but then I think there’s people who completely overthink their eating. And I think the reason that or the way you can differentiate between something as natural as breathing and something as natural as eating, they’re both necessary for survival but with eating, there’s all this shame and guilt and morality and failure associated with it. With breathing, you can do some of that if you’re trying to work on your practice of mindfulness and you can feel a little bit guilty if you’re not breathing as mindfully as it like but I think that the level of shame that one can experience with food and nutrition and body image is just a whole new level.

And I often tell my clients if we put that amount of pressure on ourselves about breathing, we’d probably develop as much chaos and dysfunction with breathing as we do with the food itself. I think there’s so many similarities but so many interesting distinctions that really helps you uncover why we get so weird about our nutrition. So much of it boils down to bodies and shame and guilt and morality and all that.

Noah Rasheta:                      To me, it seems like the key is what you’ve mentioned with body image. From the mindfulness approach when we’re talking about being mindful and emotions like happiness being better than sadness, we call this, it’s a form of a, like a conceptual prison. It’s the idea or the belief itself that blinds us. And I think with food it’s absolutely the same but it stems from the idea of here is an ideal body image and here is a not ideal body image. Outside of healthy, right, because it’s obvious that there’s healthy and not healthy but the look of a body stems off of a conceptualization that we inherit from societal views and maybe family views.

And those evolve over time because there was a time when having a really curvy body or extra weight would have been viewed as something desirable. Like this person is well to do.

Paige Smathers:                   Exactly. And this is why so much of the work that I do along with so many others who are in the space is so body image focused and it’s kind of trying to target some of the systems that are in place that sort of are the root cause of some of our struggles with food where we think we need to look this certain way therefore we feel like we need to eat that certain way. But all of a sudden that expectation that pressure of eating that way creates all this dysfunction and chaos mentally, physically, emotionally in every way. And so kind of targeting at the root of saying like, well wait a minute, maybe there is biological diversity and maybe that’s something to be celebrated and no two bodies really look the same and that’s great.

I’ve actually heard models say that I wish I looked the way I look in my pictures because that’s not even real. And so sometimes some of this media literacy comes up when we’re talking about consuming media in a critical way. It’s all really important. And it’s so interesting because we’re talking about food but you have to kind of take some big steps back and look at the whole thing.

Noah Rasheta:                      So the do you find that rather than approaching the food as the problem, approaching the idea or the belief behind it, like the body image if you approach that first does the food part of it just solve itself?

Paige Smathers:                   That’s a great questions and I think it really depends on the person. So sometimes these thoughts and this struggle with food is so ingrained and it’s been so many years that there really truly is some stuff with food that we need to work on. We need to work on establishing some regular consistent meals. We need to work on what does balance look like. We need to work on giving yourself permission to enjoy food and to taste it and to derive pleasure from it. So there is definitely a side of this that has to do with food but there’s so much of it that’s like it’s not really about the food.

So that’s why in my work I definitely refer to therapists and other people who specialize in helping people really uncover things if there’s some really deep things. But I think sometimes people get that permission to just have their own experience with body image and have their own sort of way that their body looks and kind of feel free and then they’re able to make, oftentimes the choices about nutrition kind of fall into place when there isn’t all that pressure. But I wouldn’t say across the board that’s just cleanly the way it works for every single person. It really is so messy and everybody who deals with this deals with it in a different way and struggles in different ways.

But yeah, that’s definitely something I’ve seen where it’s like, oh, you’re saying I don’t need to seek after this ideal. Okay, maybe I’ll just kind of be cool with I am and what I do and connect to my body and then all of a sudden nutrition becomes way less of an issue.

Noah Rasheta:                      So from the mindfulness approach one of the things that we talk about, the idea of being more mindful. It’s less energy that goes into trying to decipher what I’m seeing and more energy goes into discovering how am I seeing. Is it a similar journey to be more intuitive with your eating or more mindful with eating. Is that part of the process, discovering how am I seeing my relationship with food versus trying to see it like an external thing.

Paige Smathers:                   So in terms of like how am I approaching this or what is my paradigm or what are my …

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, my paradigm i think. Is it understanding my paradigm is where I start versus changing my circumstances, is that right?

Paige Smathers:                   Oh my gosh, yeah, totally. That’s completely true. And that’s hard work, to change your paradigm and to shift that after potentially decades of seeing food a certain way. People who do this type of work in their own lives, it often feels really countercultural and I’m sure you get. You kind of feel like you’re swimming upstream because here you are at Thanksgiving dinner and everyone’s talking about how much the food is so delicious but how bad it is. And you’re just trying to be like, no, it’s not bad, it just is.

So yeah, this paradigm shift is tricky to do and then tricky to kind of stick with because it’s not normal in our culture to not be really obsessed and rigid about food and nutrition and health and micromanage things.

Noah Rasheta:                      So something that you talk about that I like is the idea that we have a relationship with food because sometimes it doesn’t occur to us that we have a relationship with that we interact with but especially something like food. Let’s talk about that a little bit. How do we discover what our relationship with food is and what is a healthy and what is an unhealthy relationship?

Paige Smathers:                   That’s a great question. So the first one you asked was how do you discover what your relationship with food looks like. I think that that really ties into the work that you do Noah. It’s trying to kind of start to pay attention. Start to pay attention to the thoughts that you’re having about food and nutrition. Start to pay attention to your cues of hunger and fullness and are you honoring those or are you consistently denying those or pushing those down or numbing those. Do you have rigid rules about food that lead to ultimate peace and well being and feeling good or do you have a relationship with food that kind of generates a lot of chaos or a lot of anxiety.

I think some people will really just immediately know like yeah, my relationship with food is strained. Oftentimes a big red flag is if you’ve spent a lot of your life dieting, there’s a good chance that things have gotten kind of thrown off. There’s a good chance that if you haven’t spent your time dieting in your life, there’s a good chance that you’re you’re doing okay but maybe there are some elements that you could maybe look into that might help to create more energy or more, just feeling better in terms of like providing your body with nourishing balanced foods. With the occasional fun indulgence here and there that’s no big deal.

But yeah, I think creating some awareness, starting to kind of take inventory of thoughts and becoming aware of them and then doing what you do with mindfulness which is okay, I’m going to experiment, I’m going to be curious, I’m going to look at if I shift this, what’s the results kind of non-judgmentally, that’s sort of what the process often looks like.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, that’s interesting. I’m just kind of process in this and my mind. The four foundations of mindfulness. We start with the understanding that there’s the sense organ and then there’s what’s being sensed. And the moment that there’s an interaction between those two, mindfulness, that’s the start of mindfulness. I’m thinking with food, I go to sit down and I start to eat something and there’s the immediate sensation of the sense organ being maybe my taste buds, right, tasting what I’m eating. And it happens really quickly that I jump a layer deeper and now my mind is interpreting that experience and it’s deciding I like this or I don’t like this.

This introspection can get deeper and deeper. Why do I like this. The mind is pulling all these library index cards. Oh yeah, we tasted this before, we don’t like this or it reminds us of this other thing. I’m thinking of this process with eating, I don’t know that we ever, that we really spend much time being with that experience because most of us sit down and I’ll just grab my phone to show, most of us sit down and we’re doing this, right, we’re like just eating, eating, eating and then we’re done eating and that was it.

And I think there’s a very non-mindful interaction with the process of eating. I know I’m guilty of this all the time, it’s like, I just want to eat as quick as I can so I can go on to the thing that mattered more in my mind which was hurry and answer that email or something like that. So let’s talk about this a little bit. The idea of mindful eating and taking advantage of the process of eating to understand that relationship we have with our food. Do you have any ideas or tips or techniques in that process?

Paige Smathers:                   Yeah, I think that’s a great question. Where my head goes is kind of thinking about the people that I work with and some of the feedback I get from people when I introduce this concept of like let’s start to generate some awareness and let’s try to be mindful and be in the present moment and really taste and experience your food. I’m a really practical person and so I don’t want people to ever feel like they’re not living up to what we’re talking about with mindful eating and therefore feel a bunch of shame and guilt about that. Like that’s not leading anybody in a good direction. So I think when we’re talking about mindfully eating we want to make sure that it feels balanced and it feels sustainable and it feels like something that’s practical and something that you can continue to do.

So, from a practical perspective a lot of my clients will kind of pick maybe one meal that they know that there may be more vulnerable to engaging in a little bit of like overeating or emotional eating or kind of being a little bit less connected to their body and maybe work on that meal where breakfast maybe is just quick and you got to get out the door and maybe lunch is rushed because things are going on and ideally short. You would stop and you’d sit down and you’d eat your meal at a table on a plate and you’d think about it.

But whenever we’re talking about mindful eating we need to remember that, the process of mindful eating you’ve got to make sure that it feels like you can engage with the people around you because part of food is for connection. Yes it’s for nourishment and yes it’s for pleasure but it’s also for connecting you to the people that you love. And so, I would hate for someone to think okay, I have to be a mindful eater so therefore go away family, I’m just going to sit here and like experience this food.

But that’s not to say that you can’t experiment with what that’s like to really, really tune in. I just think that there’s a delicate balance that we have to find in each person to find what’s right for them. Does that make sense or answer at all?

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, for sure. And I’m glad you brought that up because when I picture mindful eating I’m not picturing it like every time you eat, you’re zoned out and you’re paying attention to, that’s just not sustainable. What I’m thinking is have you ever done that. To me the idea of mindful eating is do I do that once a month, is it once a week that I really sit there and think about what I’m eating. Because it can be a profound experience. We were having dinner the other night with my wife and kids and we were eating mushrooms and one of my kids said I hate mushrooms. With mindfulness practice, we’re always trying to uncover or discover this concept of self, untangle the self. Who is the I that hates the mushroom.

As this expression came out, I hate mushrooms, I had this thought of man, I love mushrooms because mushrooms are one of my favorite meals. I correlated that expression to a time in my life when I hated mushrooms and I thought how fascinating, who was the I that didn’t like mushrooms and who is the I that does like mushrooms now in the context of impermanence, in the context of interdependence. And then I had this thought of is it really me that likes mushrooms or is it just my taste buds, they work well for my taste buds and I’m taking, I’m personalizing it and saying what my taste buds enjoy, I interpret as me that likes this or doesn’t like that.

That was a profound little moment of connection there were I thought my taste buds enjoy mushrooms because of how they’re configured, D.N.A., life experiences, all these causes and conditions make it so that it’s a pleasant experience for me to eat a mushroom while someone sitting next to me doesn’t have a pleasant experience but there’s no real inherent difference between the two. It’s just this is what is and that’s what is. It’s not right or wrong, it was just a fun little moment. And I thought, well that was a neat little mindful moment of eating.

Paige Smathers:                   The experience of eating is a very physical thing that we do, we have to do every single day multiple times a day. It gives us a window into insight about some of these abstract concepts that are difficult to learn unless we have a physical thing to learn it with. So, for instance, like your relationship with food, the way that you feed yourself, the way that you take care of yourself with your nutrition, or just your mindful eating can give you insight into principles of, like you were saying interdependence and self-love and connection and what do you value and what’s important to you. There’s so much wisdom to be gleaned from this very monotonous never ending task of feeding yourself.

So, I think that what I wanted to say and I think I feel a little bit thrown off with the break we had to take but I think that food offers you a very unique opportunity to have a window into learning a bunch of things about yourself that maybe in other ways are just harder to grasp or wrap your head around because they’re so abstract. Does that make sense?

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, for sure. Some of the things that I like to do when I’m eating and again, this isn’t every time I eat, you know, most of the time that I eat I just eat while I’m talking or while I’m on my phone or something else. But every now and then when I try to purposely be mindful, one thing I do is like what I mentioned before the idea of really thinking about the experience I’m having while I taste something. Another that I do is I try to correlate the mindfulness teachings of impermanence and interdependence.

With impermanence I think what this is right now in the context of time is not what this was 20 minutes ago, a year ago, two years ago. I like to try to go back in time and just see this food I’m about to consume, what was it before it was this and what was it before it was that and what was it before it was that. But then future as well. Understanding this will be, components of this or parts of this will be in my muscles. If it’s a certain food like it might be in my brain and it contributes to my focus later this afternoon. So across the spectrum of time I like to be mindful of that.

And then with interdependence and I’ll sit there and look at the food for a second and think what did it take for this to be here. What people were involved, the processes that were involved. Those two questions can be pretty profound too. Do you have anything like that that you do from time to time?

Paige Smathers:                   Definitely. I love what you’ve already said. I think that those are really great ways to feel grounded and in the eating experience. Another thing that I really like to help my clients tap into is this idea of of bodily cues. So just like we were talking about with breathing where it’s just really natural to like breathe in and out, you don’t really have to think about it and when you draw attention to it you can, it’s actually a lot harder than you might think that it should be to be able to pay attention to your breath.

But food it’s very similar, where you just kind of eat and then you stop and you don’t always really consider how was I feeling. What kinds of cues were I experiencing, what was my body sort of communicating in terms of what its needs were in that moment, in terms of hunger, maybe in terms of quantity of food or what sounded good. There’s an element of like this mysterious thing where if you really get stale and quiet and pay attention you can really start to discover what you’re actually needing or wanting in that moment with food and I don’t think that that’s true with every single situation and I don’t think you need to take that to the extreme either but it’s really worthwhile work to try to discover what hunger feels like to you, true hunger and then what does satisfaction and fullness feel like to you.

So many of us are eating when we’re not really hungry. Maybe stopping eating when we’re maybe not really satisfied and then we’re hungry again very soon and we’re kind of always grazing or never really hungry and get way too full. I try to help my clients kind of come back to trusting these cues just like we trust my body communicated, it’s time to go the bathroom, you go, you don’t question it but somehow with food we Kind of overthink it and create a bunch of chaos.

So part of the mindful experience I think is definitely thinking about the food that you’re eating and the ideas of what had to come into play to make this food in front of me and then what happens to it before it came to me and after. I love those ideas but then I also love the idea of trying to get in touch with what is happening inside of your body and what the cues feel like to know how to take good care of yourself.

Noah Rasheta:                      I like that idea. I hadn’t thought about the awareness of what your body is telling you while you’re eating. For example, I’ve had many experiences where I’m eating and when I’m done I know wherever that line was I crossed it 10 times ago. And that becomes very easy to be aware of but it had never occurred to me with each bite if I was aware of now what does it feel like and then another by another, you know, you wouldn’t necessarily reach that point. I hadn’t thought that mindless eating is what gets me to the point where I realize I crossed that line a long time ago and I should have stopped and now I’m feeling really sick or something.

Paige Smathers:                   Totally. And then also this idea of like there’s degrees of hunger. There’s slightly hungry, there’s true hunger where you’re kind of still feeling like you’re going to make a good decision, where you’re going to be able to be reasonable and then there’s a point beyond that that’s like I’m so hungry I don’t really care what’s in front of me and I don’t really care about nutrition. I just want to eat. And so, part of this idea of mindfulness is trying to uncover what happens when I feel that desperate primal hunger. How hard is it for me to tune in and do I have to practice a little bit more slowing down and paying attention and being aware of my tendency to maybe go overboard when I get to that place.

So yeah, I think there are so many avenues you could take this but one of the big ones that really hits home for a lot of people who struggle with food or even are just curious about how to take better care of themselves is this idea of starting to pay attention to the cues that your body gives you and trusting that those cues are worthwhile to listen to and pay attention to.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I like that. Okay, Robert says, I’ve been making a mindful effort to notice food that I want versus food that my body needs. Yeah, that’s a really important one. I’m always impressed with people who know their body and their relationship food well enough that they can say something like oh, I shouldn’t eat that because it’s going to, you know, they already know the consequence of it.

Paige Smathers:                   Like anticipating.

Noah Rasheta:                      A stomach upset or … I think that requires a lot of awareness and mindfulness.

Paige Smathers:                   Definitely.

Noah Rasheta:                      I’d like to take a minute for those who are participating live on the Crowdcast platform. If you’re watching us on Facebook we’re not monitoring the comments there unfortunately but on Crowdcast, the platform that we’re using to stream this, if you’re participating there we can interact with you live. So if you have a question now would be a good time to post those so we can start looking at those or if you just have comments that you want to throw out there you can post those on the chat as well. So we’ll be looking for those. And then what I’d like to gear up for next once we answer any questions that anyone might have or comments that they might have, I want to announce the exciting partnership that Paige and I have developed to do a full day workshop on mindful eating.

Paige has so much information that she brings to the table with nutrition and intuitive eating and we thought it would be a neat blend to incorporate her work with the work that I do with mindfulness in general. So the idea behind this workshop is that, it’s going to be in Salt Lake City, it’s a full day workshop and we’re going to have a few modules that we’ll be addressing.

So, the first one is suffering and dieting. Do you want to speak to that in a new way, Paige, some of the things that we might be talking about there?

Paige Smathers:                   Sure, yeah. We’ve kind of touched on it a little bit the idea of, when I hear you talk about suffering, my dietician [LENS brain 00:34:42] is thinking that’s dieting. Dieting creates so much suffering in our life and we chase after it as if it’s the answer, meanwhile it’s actually creating so much dysfunction in our lives. The goal with this module and with the workshop in general is to teach the main ideas of mindfulness. But in context of how that applies to your relationship with food and your body and self care when it comes to nutrition.

And so, this one I think is really important as a foundation to understand. Any of the other things that you’re going to be doing with your nutrition if it’s coming from this dieting mindset where you’re saying I want to manipulate my body or morality around food or good food bad food right wrong, you know, all of these absolutes. It’s not going to really lead to that ultimate peace, it’s going to lead to lots more suffering.

The good news is it doesn’t need to be this choice between dieting and complete and total not caring about your eating at all. There’s this awesome middle ground where you can gently take really great care of yourself but not create so much suffering I guess is maybe my summary there.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that and I love the idea of the middle way which is the path of mindfulness. And from the mindfulness perspective when we’re talking about suffering, we’re talking about what arises when we want things to be other than they are. This is how it is, this is how I want it to be, because they don’t match I suffer or experience anguish, discomfort, discontent, there are a lot of words for it. This is prevalent specifically in our relationship with food or with our body, the way, here’s how I look, here’s how I think I should look and I’m going to experience suffering as long as there’s a discrepancy between the two. So I think those are concepts and topics that we’ll look at and that will peel the layers back, the conceptualizations behind what may be causing the suffering. So that’s what I was going to add with my perspective-

Paige Smathers:                   Perfect, that’s great.

Noah Rasheta:                      The other one that we’re going to address is the idea of impermanence and all or nothing thinking. So let’s talk about that one a little bit.

Paige Smathers:                   Okay, I love this one. So often when you try to make some improvements with your nutrition, you’re trying to kind of work on taking better care of yourself with your nutrition, it can really turn into this like all or nothing pursuit where you have a list of things to do and a list of things not to do and inevitably we are all going to eat a slice of cake again probably in our lives or like a cookie or something that’s on our list of maybe we think that we shouldn’t be doing that.

And so, the flaws of dieting, it’s all or nothing nature. We are not black and white beings. There’s so much nuance and messiness. There’s even a comment in here about how certain foods are bad for us and we shouldn’t eat them. I agree that some foods we want to maybe even a little bit less of and maybe less often and certain foods we maybe want to eat more and more often but there’s really interesting research around the idea of the more that you take away the morality around food and really try to connect with providing your body regular scheduled meals that are balanced and nutritious, you actually end up eating better when you don’t have this all or nothing mindset. You actually have an overall healthier diet than when you put all of these really strict rules that dieting brings.

So, that’s where I’m coming from with this idea of all or nothing thinking and I love the idea of impermanence and how that really connects with this idea where you’re able to say okay, today, I ate a cookie. That doesn’t mean that I need to eat 20 cookies. This next minute that I’m in after eating that cookie is a new minute, it’s a new moment and I get to make a choice of what I do right now.

So many dieters say well, I ate the one thing that I told myself I shouldn’t so therefore I don’t know when I’ll eat it next so I might as well eat 20 right now. There’s so much flaw in that type of thinking and I think the idea of impermanence really helps us see that we really truly are in each moment and that’s what we have and we get to be a new person each moment.

Noah Rasheta:                      That happens on the mindfulness path as well. Someone decides I’m going to start practicing meditation because I want to be more peaceful and then they’ll sit there and experience contentment while they’re meditating or something only to be disrupted later that night, something happens, an argument and they lose their temper and they’re like well, screw that, I’m not doing that again because it didn’t help, I’m not a peaceful person. Or you’ll have someone who says, I’ve been told on multiple occasions by people oh, you do meditation stuff. Yeah, I can’t do that. I’m not peaceful enough to be someone who meditates. And it’s just funny that all or nothing thinking like unless I can be 100% then I’m not going to do it.

Paige Smathers:                   Yeah, and with food, guess what, there is no perfect. There’s maybe your version of what’s right for you but like there is no perfect eating. And so stop trying to, stop having those expectations that that’s what you’re trying to do. Just like with mindfulness, maybe there’s no, you shouldn’t have the expectation of being able to be perfectly peaceful every moment. That sets you up for suffering, right?

Noah Rasheta:                      Exactly, exactly. That’s what we stress in mindfulness training, that’s the wrong expectation to think well, I’m going to do this and now I’ll never experience suffering again. We’re saying, no, you’re going to develop greater comfort around being uncomfortable. You become more comfortable with this comfort, that’s what starts to happen. It’s not that you are going to eliminate discomfort.

Paige Smathers:                   And greater resiliency, don’t you think? Like just greater ability to work through it when it comes up.

Noah Rasheta:                      Now during the workshop we will have lunch and that will be an opportunity to learn how to practice a form of eating meditation. So we’ll talk about techniques and you’ll have the opportunity to actually practice them there during the workshop. And again, this isn’t so that from here on out this is how you will always eat when you go somewhere to eat. It’s not that but these techniques will help you from time to time to take a moment and be mindful while you’re doing that thing that we do that we do to live right, eating. So that will be a fun part of the workshop.

Another module we’re discussing will be interdependence and connection. From my perspective, I talked about that a little earlier with the idea of understanding that nothing exists independent of the other things that allow that thing to exist. Especially with food, it’s so evident with food that, how often do we sit and experience gratitude for either the hands that prepared it or going far back the hands that farmed it, that planted it, that transported it. There’s a lot to it there so let’s talk a little bit about from your perspective, from your side of things, the interdependence and connection.

Paige Smathers:                   We did touch on this quite a bit in what we talked about earlier I think. I think that a lot of the work we’re trying to do when it comes to creating a healthier relationship with food in your body is trying to sort of allow your mind and your body to be connected again. A lot of people sort of, dissociate is kind of a strong word but kind of maybe zone out or numb or don’t really think about it or maybe are afraid to experience pleasure and enjoyment from food. So there’s so many aspects of connection that I think become so important and helping people really truly uncover their ability to connect to hunger as a cue or to fullness as a cue, it becomes so important to give yourself permission to enjoy eating.

I know that maybe sounds weird for some people but for people who have dieted a bunch or who have tried to deny themselves with various plans throughout the years that maybe it weren’t right for them, you’ve develop this sense of like shame or guilt if you’re enjoying food. And so, coming back to really being able to say like that’s okay, that’s an important part of this. That actually helps me tap into what’s going on in my body and helps me connect to myself, helps me connect to other people, helps me connect to again, like all of the ideas of like, all the causes and conditions in this world that had to come together to make this meal. The people, the sun, the water, the soil, all of it.

I think that developing a sense of connection to all of those things is really important and then also developing a sense of connection to what your values are can really drive your eating experience. So, connection is such a deep topic and I could talk about it forever but value directed or value guided eating I think is a really, really interesting way to approach food where you’re trying to kind of think about what’s important to you and try to make your relationship with food in line with those values. And for me, one of the big things that I value is connection with other people. And so, sometimes my decisions about nutrition will be kind of more weighted towards well, does this connect me to other people. For instance, like I won’t say no to an ice cream outing even though maybe I didn’t really want it or didn’t really feel like it or whatever I think sometimes connection can be a really important part of how we experience food.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I love the idea of connection on multiple tiers. The connection with the processes, the causes and conditions. The connection with your own body as you’re experiencing it and the connection with people. And like you said, it’s going to be its own module because there’s so much to talk about there.

Paige Smathers:                   Yeah, yeah, there really is.

Noah Rasheta:                      So we have a lot in store for this workshop and great detail broken into modules and specific topics. If you are listening to this and you want to learn more about it, we set up a website called mindfuleatingworkshop.com. That’s right, isn’t it?

Paige Smathers:                   Yeah, that’s right. Good job.

Noah Rasheta:                      Send everyone to some other website. Mindfuleatingworkshop.com is the website where you can learn about where, when, how, how much, all that kind of stuff. And the date is in April, it’s in Salt Lake City. Is it, remind me the date.

Paige Smathers:                   April seventh. It’s a Saturday.

Noah Rasheta:                      That’s a Saturday, right?

Paige Smathers:                   Yup.

Noah Rasheta:                      So it’s a Saturday, April seventh, it’s all day, nine to five, more or less, lunch is provided. Feel free to reach out to either one of us if you have more questions about that, if you want us to answer any questions. We’re both available on Facebook and social media and email.

Okay. Do you have anything else that you wanted to add about the workshop before we move on?

Paige Smathers:                   No, I think you did a great job kind of taking us through some of the main ideas. I guess maybe one thing I do want to stress is my hope is to kind of bridge the gap between these amazingly powerful and beautiful concepts of mindfulness and then these really powerful life changing paradigm shifting ideas about nutrition and kind of bridge that gap in a way that feels really practical. I think these broad big concepts are really important but I also really think that people walking away with feeling like okay, I know what I can do and I know what’s really resonated with me and I know where I can improve, that’s really important to me. So that’s one of my big goals is to help people walk away with some really practical tools.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up because that is an important part of it. It’s not beneficial to just walk away from something thinking wow, that left me feeling really good and then going right back into the same old routine. And with mindfulness it’s the same. Someone can come learn all the why and how about meditation and the benefits of it but then go back to their habitual reactivity and nothing really changes. Rather than just inducing an altered state of mind for the moment while you’re there, we’re looking at inducing altered traits, altered ways of being, altered habits that should have a profound effect on on you from that moment on.

Paige Smathers:                   And the amazing thing about that Noah, like really what really draws me to your work is that the stuff that you teach in your work is what makes it so that stuff sticks, does that make sense? Like if you can really work on acceptance and really wrapping your brain around this idea of suffering and really work on these broad big ideas that are so important, it’s what makes it feel like gosh, if I take one step in the right direction, I’m doing a good thing. I don’t need to be 100% perfect today here and now. And that’s I think one of the biggest things that gets in people’s way when it comes to nutrition or making any behavioral change.

So that’s what I think is so valuable about taking this perspective is you’re kind of setting yourself up for being able to implement these things because you’re learning about the processes and the mindset that can really help you do that.

Noah Rasheta:                      And you know that kind of goes to the final topic that we have in the workshop is the art of living and the art of eating which is the transition of the mindset of here’s where I am, here’s where I need to be and once I get there then I’m happy. It’s realizing the path is the goal. With mindfulness, that’s absolutely the case. It’s discovering that the path itself is the goal is the moment of enlightenment, the moment of awakening so to speak because there is nowhere to go, there’s just where you are. You will only ever be where you are, right? You get there and you realize there’s no there there. And I think that’s the same with when we have eating habits. It’s like where do you finally get there. You get there and then there’s something else. So it’s discovering the beauty of the path. The beauty of, the process of eating, it’s the process that’s great, not the outcome or the goal, right?

Paige Smathers:                   So true, so true, yeah.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, we’ll definitely focus on that in this workshop as well. So as far as the discussion that people are listening to live and the overall topic of mindful eating or intuitive eating, do you have any tips or hints, something that somebody could walk away from after having listened to this live interview with you that could start to have a change with their relationship with food?

Paige Smathers:                   That’s such a good question and I’m kind of long-winded. That’s an interesting thing to try to kind of distill into a quick easy tip to implement. I often tell people that if I could sit down with them and provide like one piece of advice it would be to teach people about hunger and fullness and I know I’ve talked about that a lot already on this episode but just to kind of reinforce that. We complicate nutrition so much. We talk about macronutrients and we talk about whole grains and I’m not here to say that that stuff doesn’t matter but we talk about all this stuff and we can lose sight of what is really important and what eating is about is it’s about nourishing your body, providing your body with energy so that you can do the things in your life that are important to you and the more we complicate it the more it tends to kind of detract from our quality of life.

Our health isn’t the reason that we’re here it’s something that we hope to have so that we can do the things we want to do. And so, I like to think about any nutrition changes we’re trying to make or anything we’re trying to work on with our relationship with food as let’s think about this as a tool to try to live our best life rather than like the purpose of life.

So, hunger and fullness, if you can start to become aware of, providing your body with regular nourishment throughout the day. Typically, three meals is a good place to start and maybe some snacks if you feel like you need them. Trying to aim to show up to that meal decently hungry and finish that meal satisfied and full. If you could work on trying to become aware of that, trying to build some data in your mind about am I never hungry in the morning. Does that mean I’m eating more at night than maybe I need or am I always showing up to the dinner table kind of full because I just snacked a bunch as I was cooking.

If you can start to kind of look at these things, notice patterns and in the meantime provide yourself with regular balanced meals, you’re going to learn a lot about yourself. There’s going to be so much insight that you can gain about what you might be able to shift or experiment with or be curious about to improve your nutrition. I don’t think it needs to be any one certain plan for every single person in general. Little bit more fruits and veggies could be a good thing to try to work on too, which sometimes you have to take some steps back and be like well, that means I have to grocery shop and if I have to grocery shop that means I have to plan and think things through and kind of be organized in the kitchen.

But all of this stuff connects. You can’t just separate nutrition from who you are or how you sleep or your stress level or anything else going on in your life. So, I feel like I’m kind of rambling here a little bit Noah but what I’m kind of trying to get out is if there’s one thing you can work on and walk away with, it’s to try to create some awareness around the cues that your body is trying to give you to try to help you take good care of it.

And my whole approach with people is that I believe that people have everything that they already need to be able to take good care of themselves and just like a child is born kind of in general knowing how to communicate their needs with hunger and need to eat and then okay, I’m done, we lose that as we get older and so if we can try to kind of reclaim that and rediscover that in ourselves rather than trying to go to some guru who teaches you how to eat, I think that that’s where the answers lie. So trying to tap into that even on a beginner level with some of this hunger and fullness stuff is a really great place to start for a lot of people.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I really like that. I would add from my perspective the relationship with our food through awareness becomes our relationship with everything because it takes everything for our food to be our food. And I think when we gain that perspective and we have that awareness, and not just with food, anytime I’m interacting with anything, this microphone for example, I’m interacting with everything that it took for this to be what it is. And that’s a profound relationship changing experience I think when it comes to food. My wife talks about how, if the kids aren’t content eating what they’re eating in a way that is on her as the person who prepared it and it takes awareness to realize oh, I’m going to enjoy this meal because a lot of effort went into preparing it.

But then extending that on and realizing it took the sun and the rain then and the clouds and everything for this salad to be what it is and here I am eating as if it was no big deal. I’m interacting with all that is an every process that’s ever taken place and time so that this could be here on my table, those can be profound moments. And like I said, we don’t need to do that every time we eat that’s not realistic. But to have that happen once or to have it happen every now and then can be very grounding.

Paige Smathers:                   I love that.

Noah Rasheta:                      That would be the takeaway that I would want to mention as far as mindful eating as a tool for feeling more connected with the world and connected with everything.

Paige Smathers:                   I love the idea that like food is everything. I can totally see what you’re saying with that. Everything had to come together to make that food exist on your plate. The cool thing is too is that it becomes a part of you. By extension you’re everything. There’s so many places you can go with this mentally that’s really profound. I love that idea.

Noah Rasheta:                      Well, I’m really looking forward to spending more time, going deep into some of these topics with you in the workshop and maybe just in future conversations. One of the questions that somebody posted was if they can’t make it to this in person is there going to be a way to participate either online or in a video. That’s something that Paige and I have talked about and we’re still addressing. Whether it be this workshop or a future workshop will find a way some point for this content to be available. So we’ll talk about that, we’ll explore some of the options, whether it’s an online workshop that’s tied to this or offered later or maybe even audio and video recording of this one that’s made available later. We’ll sort that out, we’ll talk about that a bit because we do want this to be available to as many people as possible.

Paige Smathers:                   Oh, yeah. We’re totally open to that idea, just kind of haven’t explored it fully yet. Kind of working on one thing at a time.

Noah Rasheta:                      That’s right. This is our first time to coordinate so we’re just excited to put something together and see how it goes.

Paige Smathers:                   I can’t wait. I’m so pumped because, I mean, I love how like I explain the best I can do with like my perspective and then you come in and say well here’s my perspective and it gels but it’s so different which I think is super valuable to kind of, no matter, if you’re someone who’s been practicing mindfulness for a long time, maybe my perspective will be a little bit new. Or if you’ve been in my world a little bit of time maybe your perspective will really help to kind of make those principles sink in on a different level.

I love that we’re not this echo chamber. Do you know what I’m trying to say? We approach things differently but in such a way that gels and I think that brings a lot of value. I mean, even just to me so I’m really excited to continue the process of putting this together.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, absolutely. Well, great. Well thanks again for taking the time to join me. For those who are listening who want to learn more about your work where would you point people?

Paige Smathers:                   The podcast that I run is called Nutrition Matters Podcast and that’s a great thing to kind of discover more about this approach. My website is paigesmathersrd.com. You can also follow me on Instagram or Facebook at Paige Smathers Rd.

Noah Rasheta:                      And for the podcast those of you who, many of you will be listening to this audio on the podcast so you are familiar with how podcast work. Just search for Nutrition Matters in your podcast, in iTunes or the podcast software that you use and you’ll find Paige’s podcast. It’s a great podcast, has a lot of useful and helpful information for nutrition and having a more mindful approach to the eating.

So again, thank you Paige. It’s been fun to discuss all this with you.

Paige Smathers:                   Thank you Noah. Yes.

Noah Rasheta:                      We will be connecting after this to discuss more logistics and stuff. For those of you who are watching live, thank you for joining us. The audio of this recording will be uploaded to the podcast later today or tomorrow. And thank you and until next time.

Paige Smathers:                   Thank you, Noah.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you, Paige.

Paige Smathers:                   Thank you.

62 – What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully – Frank Ostaseski

In this episode, I discuss the topic of death with Frank Ostaseski, author of “The Five Invitations: What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully”. Death is perhaps our greatest teacher, a close encounter with death can forever change our perspectives and priorities. Awareness of death is the secret to living more mindfully.


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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 62. I am your host, Noah Rasheta, and today I’m sharing the audio of a discussion I had with Frank Ostaseski on the topic of death.

Death is perhaps our greatest [00:00:30] teacher. It’s awareness of death that can be said to be the secret to life, the secret to living life fully. Frank is an expert on the topic. He’s a Buddhist teacher, an international lecturer and a leading voice in end of life care. He co-founded the Zen Hospice project, which was the first Buddhist hospice in America. He created the Metta Institute to provide innovative educational [00:01:00] programs and professional trainings that foster compassionate mindfulness based care. He’s the author of a book called The Five Invitations, discovering what death can teach us about fully living.

I’ve been excited to interview him because the topic of death is perhaps, as I mentioned before, one of the most powerful topics that we can approach when it comes to trying to live more mindfully. [00:01:30] I don’t know of a single thing that can trigger a more profound shift of perspective than having a close encounter with death. Whether that be on a personal note a close encounter with death, or encountering a loved one, finding out a loved one has cancer, or finding out that a loved one just lost someone [00:02:00] that they care about. Any time we encounter death it seems to be the most impactful and profound change that we experience. It’s in those moments that we are keenly aware of just how fragile life is, that we become very mindful about what really matters.

Oftentimes we find in those moments that the things that we thought that really mattered don’t, and the things that we [00:02:30] kind of discard and don’t think they really matter, we find out those are the things that really matter. It has a tendency to flip things upside down almost. I’ve been wanting to have a discussion on this topic because I think it is a profound topic. Unfortunately death is something that we don’t think about or talk about very often in our society. I understand why, I think [00:03:00] it makes us sad. At the core of everything that Buddhism teaches is this premise that where there is discomfort we run from it. We don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to think about it, because it’s not comfortable.

I love how the Buddhist approach is saying the opposite. It’s saying, “Wait a second, this is perhaps the only certain thing that we have in life. Why not look towards it? Why [00:03:30] not use death as an ongoing way of living fully, of living more mindfully?” Several years ago I tried this experiment myself, to think about death often. Not just my own death but the death of the people closest to me, the people that I love and care about. It is uncomfortable, but over time it’s settled into this sense of reality. I know that I’m going to lose [00:04:00] everyone that I care about. I know when I interact with people out on the street that they’re not going to live forever. I’m not going to live forever.

It has the ability to change the way that we interact with people. It has the ability to help us to not get so bent out of shape over things, because we start to see the impermanent nature of life and the impermanent nature [00:04:30] of every single moment. This moment passes away so that a new moment arises. It’s life changing to think this way. That’s why I wanted to share this topic. Frank is the best person to have this discussion with. In his book, The Five Invitations, he talks about five specific invitations that you can apply to your life [00:05:00] to start to see death differently. We discuss that a little bit in the interview, but I would invite you to pick up his book, The Five Invitations, and to read that, and then hopefully as strange as it sounds I would invite you to think about death often. Your death and the death of everyone that you know. Like I said, with time this can become a profound [00:05:30] way of living very mindfully.

The Buddha’s greatest teaching is the teaching of impermanence. Death is the ultimate expression of this teaching. Everything that is familiar to us ceases. I think that awareness of death is the secret to living mindfully. It’s when we’re reminded how fragile life is, that’s when we become aware of how precious every single moment is. Whether it be a pleasant moment or an unpleasant moment. [00:06:00] So with that as the background, I hope you enjoy this discussion that I had with Frank Ostaseski. Without further ado, I give you the audio recording of the interview I had with Frank. Thank you.

Okay, this interview is being streamed live now across the Secular Buddhism Facebook page, YouTube channel and probably a few other places. What I do at [00:06:30] the end of this interview, I failed to mention this to you a second ago, I’ll take the audio. The audio will be uploaded to the podcast, but the video, the raw video of the interview will reside on the Facebook page, where followers of the Facebook page or group can watch it later if they didn’t see it live.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Good, just send me a link to it. We’ll bring our people to [inaudible 00:06:52]

Noah Rasheta:                      Alright, well those of you who are watching or listening live, welcome. I am very excited to have [00:07:00] Frank Ostaseski with me, and to have a lively discussion on the topic of death today. It sounds a little humorous at times to speak lightly of death, and the same time I do want to emphasize the fact that from my perspective the teaching of impermanence in Buddhism is perhaps the most powerful transformative teaching.

The idea that at any [00:07:30] given moment, a moment passes away to give rise to a new moment. And then extending that thought all the way onto this experience of being alive and the ever present thought of this experience ending can be very profound. Frank is one of the experts on this topic. He’s a Buddhist teacher, an international lecturer and a leading voice in end of life care. In 1987, he co-founded the Zen Hospice project, [00:08:00] the first Buddhist hospice in America. In 2004, he created the Metta Institute to provide innovative and educational programs and professional trainings that foster compassion, mindfulness based care.

He’s the author of a book called, The Five Invitations, which I happened to read earlier this year, and then recently listened to him talking about the topic of death and his book on another podcast, [00:08:30] on Sam Harris’ podcast. I’m a big fan of Sam Harris’ podcast. I thought it would be really cool to invite me onto the Secular Buddhism podcast. He very graciously accepted the invitation and that’s why he’s here today. We’re going to talk about discovering what death can teach us about fully living. Thank you very much Frank for taking the time to join us today.

Frank Ostaseski:                   I’m really happy to be with you and happy to also be with [00:09:00] the viewers and listeners that will be taking advantage of this I hope. Yeah, I like that we’re going to emphasize the living part.

Noah Rasheta:                      Absolutely.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Yeah, what can death teach us about living a full life? Living a life characterized by love and meaning and purpose.

Noah Rasheta:                      Absolutely. It seems to me, and anyone listening would probably agree, if you’ve ever had a brush with death, a family member [00:09:30] or a loved one either passing away or almost passing away, it changes you. You start … Death seems to be the teacher that can at any given moment radically shift your priorities, radically shift your perspective. Everything changes in the face of death. It’s not necessarily that we have to wait for that final moment when we realize, “Uh oh, I am about to pass away.”

We get glimpses of this when we find out a good friend passed away, or a friend’s [00:10:00] cousin, or you know, any time we brush with death, it seems to trigger something in us, a more mindful way of living. And then it seems to wear off, and with time we kind of forget, and then we’re reminded again of our mortality and we’re right back at it, where suddenly priorities shift. With your work you seem to be, you’re immersed in this all the time, so let’s talk a little bit about how transformative that experience [00:10:30] is, being regularly reminded of death. How does that change the day to day living, the living part of this experience?

Frank Ostaseski:                   It’s a great question. The scenario that you paint is quite a common one. We have some encounter and then we kind of spring back into our old habits. We think death [inaudible 00:10:54] happen later, and later gives us that comfortable buffer between where we are in this moment [00:11:00] and when we think death will happen, at the end of some long road for example, or a long illness. But I talk about death as being the secret teach- [inaudible 00:11:07] … that is hiding in plain sight, showing us what matters most, helping us to really appreciate how to step into this life.

I don’t think we have to wait until even our to own dying, even to brush with death to understand something about that. It’s all the time here. It’s not just when we step [00:11:30] off a curb and a car narrowly misses us, it’s reading the newspaper or watching the evening news or, as you say, friends of friends having an encounter with loss. It’s not just that death comes and then it reminds us of life. It’s more that we start stepping into the every day, every moment coming and going of life. When we do that, when we recognize it’s [00:12:00] totally precarious, I mean it’s all precarious, then I think it also helps us to appreciate how precious it is, and then we don’t want to waste a moment. That’s what I find to be really useful about this experience. That it shows us we’re all in the boat together. I think this engenders us being kinder to one another.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, absolutely. Isn’t that fascinating, that death is perhaps the most certain thing we have? [00:12:30] We’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty in life, we chase after things to try to have a sense of control, a sense of certainty, and yet here it is glaring almost in front of us, this, the certainty of our death and the death of everything we hold dear, everyone that we know, and yet we seem to never want to think about it. Why do you think that is? At least in our society, why is it so taboo to think about the death of a loved one? Why?

Frank Ostaseski:                   [00:13:00] I think this has been our training since we were very young, to see death as the enemy, as a final curtain call, all that stuff. Instead really, what would happen if we began to speak with our youngsters, our children, more about death [inaudible 00:13:20] I think actually, in my experience, kids are really fascinated by this. They really want to know about it. They’re not scared of it at all. It’s just that we’ve told ourselves really scary [00:13:30] stories about death, so that’s happening, but it’s also changing.

I think that we’ve removed death from everyday life oftentimes in our experience, and that’s part of what makes it foreign. We made it technological and we’ve mystified it and we’ve turned it over to doctors and priests and undertakers. I think when we do that we rob us, ourselves really, of connection with the holy significance of death. I [00:14:00] think it’s shifting. I think people are wanting to have this conversation more and more. They just don’t know how to have it. They want to have it with people who aren’t so afraid to talk about it. I think that’s what we’re doing today. We’re just having an honest conversation about it. I think there’s been, traditionally, all of this avoidance and taboos, et cetera, but that’s a relatively new phenomenon. We have to really think, and we think in terms of the history of the human kind, [00:14:30] this is something that’s decades old.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. You know, something I’ve really appreciated from the Buddhist perspective, rather than seeing life as this force opposed as death as its opposite, the Buddhist approach really meshes the two. It helps you to get out of that dualistic way of thinking of life and death, and then you see it as life, death, it’s like the same. You can’t have one without the other.

[00:15:00] That mental approach for me was a pretty radical shift. To realize that you should, if you love life why should you hate death? Because you can’t have one without the other. I was having a conversation with my son, who’s eight years old, we were driving. He was asking me, I don’t remember exactly how the topic came up, but we were talking about death and I said, “What if instead of talking about it like death, like [00:15:30] the end, we just realize it’s a continuation?”

I started to give him examples. I said, “The death of winter is the birth of what?” Right away he’s like, “Spring.” “Yeah, and the death of spring is the birth of what?” We started going through this process. We talked about caterpillars, “What is the death of a caterpillar? It’s the birth of a butterfly.” Virtual in the context of the end of something is the start of something less. I think that was very [00:16:00] profound for him. Then he came up with scenarios and some were comical. That is, the death of a cow is the birth of a hamburger, or things like that.

I was saying, this is what I wanted him to grasp, this continuation. It doesn’t spell the end in the sense of non-existence. It’s transformation. I thought that was really neat and it was fun to have that conversation with him.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Yeah, it’s a beautiful way to have a conversation with a child, and to [00:16:30] really listen also to what they think about it, as opposed to us telling them all the time what it should be. I used to run a preschool years ago when my son was quite young. He’s a grown adult with his own children now. But we used to have these days in the preschool where we’d go out into the woods, nearby woods, and find dead stuff. The kids loved it.

They’d go out and they’d find a rusty old car part or a twig or a leaf or bones of a bird. We’d bring them all [00:17:00] back and spread them out on a blue tarp. Then we’d have a kind of show and tell. The kids would talk about what they’d seen. They were incredibly imaginative. They would talk about this piece of bark had been a bed for a mouse and the mouse didn’t need it anymore. This rusty old car part was a part of a spaceship that had fallen as it passed over the earth. Then this one little girl said something beautiful. She said, “I think the leaves on the trees are very, very generous. That they fall to make [00:17:30] room for new leaves.”

I thought that was a beautiful understanding from this four year old really. I think if we can have conversations like the one you were having with your son, or the one I’m describing with children, early on instead of frightening them, I think it really makes a huge difference in how we grow up in keeping death as our companion in a way. We learn then to harness an awareness of death to appreciate the fact that we’re really alive, to encourage self-exploration, to clarify our values, [00:18:00] to find meaning, to generate positive action in our life. I think it’s impermanence that gives us perspective. It helps us to appreciate the beauty of life.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, [inaudible 00:18:11] Your first invitation in the book is to not wait. We don’t need to wait to have these conversations. One of the things that stood out to me when I first about not waiting was also not waiting to think about all the scenarios that [00:18:30] could happen. I first came across this concept years ago, reading another book, but I remember having the thought, “What would it be like when I lose my parents?” It’s a thought that I had avoided.

I’m a twin brother and we’re very close, and that was another thought, “What would it be like to not have my twin brother?” It hit on emotions that I didn’t want to explore yet, and that sense of not waiting for me was realizing, “Well, why not explore that now? [00:19:00] What would it feel like to not have him in my life?” It made every moment more precious since that thought experiment, because it’s like, “I still have him and I still have my mom and I still have my dad.” So the idea of not waiting I think can be beneficial also in terms of not waiting to think of what it will be like when we don’t have the people that we currently have. Do you find that that, as a thought experiment is that … It can be difference, [00:19:30] no one likes to think of the loss of their loved ones, but once you get … Do you get used to it the more you practice it? What do you find with this thought?

Frank Ostaseski:                   I think that it’s an interesting exercise to do, as you’re suggesting. It can be kept as a kind of thought experiment and that keeps us in safe territory so to speak. I think it’s really important that we let that drop into our heart and into our bones and really know it to be true. It is true. It’s a [00:20:00] fact of life that all those who are dear to us we will be separated from. It’s inevitable.

So at first this is a scary thought and it brings up this kind of urgency. But that urgency isn’t all bad, it also is a reminder to really step in with both feet into our life, to tell the people we love that we love them now, not to wait for some opportunity for that. Again, I think it’s the precariousness [00:20:30] of this life that helps us to appreciate its beauty. Every year cherry blossoms explode on the hillsides of Japan. There’s a beautiful place where I teach in the northwest where there are these little blue flax flowers that last for a single day. Now, how come those flowers are so much more beautiful than plastic flowers? Isn’t it part of the fact that they have a brief life? The brevity of their lives help us to appreciate their beauty.

It’s not that [00:21:00] it’s all sad. It’s that it is really about stepping, really fully stepping into our life. I think that, don’t wait is a reminder that waiting for the next moment to arrive we miss this one. I’ve been with hundreds and hundreds of families who have said to me in one way or another, “When is mom going to die?” Waiting for the moment of death we miss all the moments in between.

[00:21:30] I think it’s more, it’s not that it should create a panic in us, but it’s like, don’t fool around, don’t fool yourself into believing you have endless time. That’s a ridiculous … I say, to imagine at the time of your death you have the clarity of mind, the emotional stability, the physical strength to do the work of a lifetime is a ridiculous gamble. Let’s not wait for that. Why? Let’s do it now. Let’s really step into our life, both feet.

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:22:00] You know, I found what you just mentioned, the passing of a moment, this thought experiment for me that started with people, with loved ones, transitioned into an almost constant thought of the passing of a moment. I catch myself in moments or in phases or in stages of life, anticipating what is the next one. One moment that I had that I still consider to be one of the more special or previous moments [00:22:30] I had with my youngest, who’s two right now, was the process of changing a stinky diaper with her, and the thought occurring to me that it will be so nice when she’s out of diapers.

It seemed to have … the process happened so quickly that when I realized the stage will come when diapers will no longer be a part of my life and I’ll look back, not that I would long for that, but [00:23:00] I’ll look back with fond memories of the stage of a toddler running around in diapers. I thought, “Why am I in such a rush to move passed this phase? Whatever the next one is, I’m going to be rushed to get passed that one and before you know it, all those stages are gone and they’re not even at home anymore.” Like I said, all that happened pretty quickly, while I was still changing the diaper, but it changed the experience of changing the diaper. It became a precious moment that I thought, “You know what, this is what I get to do right now.” [00:23:30] That was one way that it manifested for me, this idea.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Yeah. I think it’s the great value of having elders in our culture. We’ve lost a little bit of the wisdom of elders I think [inaudible 00:23:46] oriented, so living in sort of ghettos, these ghettos so to speak. I think that there’s something, there’s a wisdom that grows with age, not all old people are wise, I don’t mean to suggest [00:24:00] that. But there is something about slowing down, and it’s not just because the body gets old and crotchety. It’s that you start to see it goes by really fast.

It’s just, what I want to encourage is stepping into it, really enjoying it, fully [inaudible 00:24:17], not tasting it all. For me that’s really the most life affirming thing that I know, is being with people who are dying. Looking into their eyes, they’re clear mirrors. They [00:24:30] really show me where I’m holding to my fear and to my opinions and views.

They also show me something else. They show me what I sometimes call an undying love, a love that isn’t particular just to a single human being and doesn’t come and go with every moment, something that’s steady. [inaudible 00:24:54] is always coming together and falling apart, everything. This morning breakfast, where did it go? [00:25:00] Last night’s love making, where is it? My blonde hair, it’s gone, it used to be there, it’s not there anymore.

I could grieve all of that experience, and sometimes it’s necessary to do that, or I could recognize this is the way of things. I could appreciate that coming and going is happening, we could say against the background of perfect harmony. When we don’t see the background, we only see the coming and going, I think what happens is all we see is suffering. So it’s [00:25:30] really important to see all this is happening against a background of perfect harmony. We miss that oftentimes.

We’re so busy, we spend so much of our day planning for the next moment, or trying to distract ourself from the current moment in some fashion or another. But I think embracing the truth, that things will inevitably change, encourages us not to wait in order to start living our life in a matter that’s really deeply [00:26:00] engaging. We stop wasting our time on meaningless activities. We don’t hold our opinions or our desires or even our identity so tightly, instead of pinning our hopes on a better future we focus on the present and we’re grateful for what’s in front of us. As I said earlier, we say I love you more often because we realize the importance of human connection. I think we become kinder and more compassionate, more forgiving of ourselves and each other. [00:26:30] I think don’t wait is a pathway to fulfillment, an antidote to regret actually.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I like that. You were talking about grieving, and I think this is an important point to bring up with the second invitation, that we welcome everything, push away nothing. I think there’s a tendency to think, “Well, I don’t want to approach this stuff until I’m at a place in my life where I can approach it in a way that’s going to not be too painful,” [00:27:00] or something along those lines. But this invitation of welcoming everything includes welcoming the difficulty of encountering and dealing with death.

I had an experience with one of my college buddies who ended up being a business partner with me in a business venture about four or five years ago. Out of the blue he was diagnosed with stage four melanoma. [00:27:30] He was told he had months to live. It ended being about a year before he passed, but in that time what used to be our Tuesday lunch meetings to talk about business, turned into our Tuesday meetings to talk about life. It was a fascinating experience, to be able to talk to him about this process of what it feels like to be dying. [00:28:00] This thought of welcoming everything, pushing nothing away.

There were moments where I noticed a resistance, especially towards the end, of, “I don’t know if I want to go see him, because what do you say to someone who’s dying?” [inaudible 00:28:16] things like that, but then thinking, “Well, it’s okay to just feel whatever I’m feeling with him, and to have those open conversations.” It turned into this beautiful experience, where I have a good friend that, the last time we met for lunch [00:28:30] I was able to give him a hug and thank him for our friendship and thank him for the fun memories in college. How often do we really get to do that? But that’s what I thought of with this welcoming everything, welcoming the difficulty of it too.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Yeah, I mean just to back up, just so that people understand the context here. The book is called Five Invitations. An invitation is, if I invite you to my house for dinner or to my wedding, [00:29:00] it’s an invitation to show up actually. It’s a request for you to be present really. The five invitations are just that. They are requests for you to be present. What we’re asking you to be present for is your life.

Each of these five invitations, you’ve named the first two, really were given to me or taught to me by people who were dying, in one way or another even if they didn’t use that exact language. They helped to really see that, “Oh, this is [00:29:30] not only a way to help take care of people at the end of life, or as they’re in the dying process, but these really have a relevance for all of us in living a more peaceful, meaningful, productive life.”

The first one, as you said, was don’t wait. The second one is welcome everything, push away nothing. That sounds really good, this would make a great bumper sticker, but how do we do that? Welcome everything? As you were suggesting, we like certainty. We like to have our purposes met. In fact most of us have been [00:30:00] taught that getting what we want and avoiding what we don’t want is the key to happiness. But inevitably in our lives there are unexpected experiences, there are unanticipated moves or we lose our job or there’s a family member who gets an illness or there’s a death of a beloved pet. We want to push these things away with all our might. When we’re faced with uncertainty, the first response is usually fear and resistance.

[00:30:30] But I think an attempt to evict these difficult aspects of life from our everyday experience is a kind of cause of cause of suffering actually for us. I think to instead, when we cultivate a kind of receptivity to whatever is present, they don’t have such a stranglehold on us. I think when we’re open and receptive we have more options. [00:31:00] We’re free to discover, to investigate, to learn how to respond to these things in skillful ways.

If our life was just about being comfortable, we would just give people morphine and put them on a couch. They’d be really comfortable but they wouldn’t be very alive. They wouldn’t be very engaged with their lives. So with welcoming everything comes the ability to meet and work with both pleasant and unpleasant circumstances. I think [00:31:30] gradually with practice we discover that our wellbeing is not dependent on just having a happy external reality. Our true happiness, our true contentment actually arises from within. Think about yourself, the changes in your life, the real growth that you have made in your life, it probably didn’t happen in your comfort zones, right?

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, in fact I was just thinking as you were saying that, that I think some of the moments where I felt most alive where moments where I was experiencing [00:32:00] perhaps the most pain I’ve ever felt, or the most hurt. Those were moments that I felt, especially after the fact, looking back and thinking, “Those are the moments that really helped me to … ” Those were pivotal moments in my life, the difficult moments.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Sure. It’s not like we have to go hunting for them, they’re there. They’re part of what life delivers to us in a way, as it does also deliver, could be beautiful moments. But I think [00:32:30] to welcome everything and push away nothing, it’s a deep invitation, to cultivate a certain kind of fearless receptivity. Now that doesn’t mean that you don’t have any fear. People misunderstand fearlessness. Fearlessness means that fear isn’t the only thing in the room. When you’re afraid Noah, for example, let me ask you, when you’re afraid do you know that you’re afraid?

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, absolutely.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Right, how do you know? How do you know you’re afraid?

Noah Rasheta:                      I think you feel it, there are physiological [00:33:00] symptoms. There’s a strong aversion to whatever it is.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Often. Fear itself is an aversion. So there might be physical sensations, there’s emotional associations that occur, the mind starts planning about the future, how to get out of this scary situation. All that’s going on, right? But here’s the thing I want to point you to, which is that when you know you’re afraid, that means that some part of you is not afraid, the part that knows you’re afraid, [00:33:30] that’s aware of your fear? It’s not afraid. We can orient to just the fear, or we can orient to this awareness, to this knowing we could say.

It doesn’t mean the fear goes away. It doesn’t mean … we don’t have to get it to go away. What we have to do is learn how to deal with it skillfully so we’re not running away from it and it whacks us in the back of the head. [crosstalk 00:33:49]

Noah Rasheta:                      I think sometimes a considerable part of the suffering we experience is the wanting to get rid of it.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Absolutely. Absolutely. [00:34:00] Most of what we call pain, even physical pain, is our resistance to it, the not wanting it to be there. That’s the real cause of suffering, pain plus resistance equals suffering. That’s the formula we can understand.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. You know, I had an experience last summer talking about fear. I have what I consider an irrational fear of snakes. I understand that it’s irrational and I’ve tried to overcome it. It’s really difficult for me. But there was a snake in the [00:34:30] yard, and I made the conscious decision to … it was a little garden snake. All the little kids were playing with it, all my nephews. I said, “I’m going to go hold it. I’m going to touch the snake and hold it and realize this is okay.” The fear never went away in that process.

The fear was there, but it’s the observer that you’re talking about, there was part of me that could observe, “I’m experiencing fear. It’s okay. I understand that it’s not necessarily rational and I’m going [00:35:00] to still proceed to do what I’m going to do,” which is hold this snake. I was proud of myself after the fact for doing it. People who know me well who were there were like, “I can’t believe you touched a snake. That was brave.” I was thinking, “Well, if brave means I was very scared and still did it, then yes. But if brave means I finally lost my fear, no that’s not accurate.”

Frank Ostaseski:                   Yeah, very good. That’s a really good distinction. I think people imagine … we’re always talking about overcoming our fear, just as we talk about [00:35:30] overcoming our grief. It’s curious to me that we never speak about overcoming our joy. We don’t say, “How do we manage our joy a little bit better?”

I think that these experiences, fear, grief, these very strong mental emotional states, are something we live into and that we learn something about. Openness doesn’t reject or get attached to any particular experience or view. It’s spacious, our awareness can have about it a certain spaciousness, indefinite quality, [00:36:00] non biased allowing we could say. Openness is the nature of awareness itself, it’s the nature of our nature actually.

I think this is one of the things that people often discover in and around the time of dying. This thing that they always imagined would be only terrifying or unbearable or unimaginably difficult, they find within themselves frequently the resources to meet what they [00:36:30] thought was unbearable in remarkable ways. It isn’t because all their fear went away. It’s because they discovered they are not just their fear. They’re not just their illness. They’re not just their dying process. There’s more to them than that.

It’s not about a spiritual bypass. It’s not about spiritualizing the expectation. It’s recognizing more of what we are. What’s amazing to me Noah is not that we can expand. All of us can, through meditation practice and other [00:37:00] ways, experience expansive states of mind and heart and body. What’s amazing to me is that we take this expansiveness of who we are and shrink it down into such a small story about who we are. That’s what’s amazing to me. That’s what gets blown out of the water in and around the time of dying frequently for people.

The habits of our life have a very strong momentum and they carry through into the time of our dying. Sometimes those habits can be really constricting. [00:37:30] So we need to ask ourself now, what habits do we want to create, we’re willing to cultivate in this life? What do you want to teach your children? So going toward what frightens us or going toward the suffering is oftentimes where the healing is often found, like going and touching the snake.

Noah Rasheta:                      I think that’s very relevant with the grieving process as well, after the fact. Losing a loved one and [00:38:00] then dealing with that grief for, it could be the rest of your life, or I think perhaps it is the rest of your life. The misconception is that one day you’ll be done, you get over it. I see a lot of suffering arise out of that thought, that this is a feeling that I’m supposed to overcome, like we were talking with fear. It’s not that you overcome it, it’s that you harmonize with it. You make it a part of the everyday.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Yeah. It’s easy to throw … [00:38:30] when someone’s in the middle of deep grief, they don’t want to hear this. It’s easy to throw conceptual theoretical ideas at these experiences which are gut wrenching. I think what’s true, is our-

Noah Rasheta:                      Excuse me.

Frank Ostaseski:                   … our relationship to grief, for example, shifts over time. But time alone doesn’t heal grief, time and attention heals grief. So in the beginning we might feel like we don’t know whether we should turn left or right at the end of our [00:39:00] driveway. We can’t make a meal. We’re absolutely lost in the experience of grief. It’s emotionally overwhelming. It can feel like sadness, of course, but it can also feel like anger, and it can feel like fear and numbness, and even relief. Those are all faces of grief.

But it doesn’t stay, it doesn’t remain in that intensity forever. It starts to shift [00:39:30] over time and with attention. After some weeks, some months, and there’s not a timetable for grief, but often with attention and time it starts to relax a little bit. Our identity isn’t completely consumed by the grief and so we start to have a different relationship to it.

The experience, what you’re saying I think which is true, is that grief is part of the human condition. It’s there for all of us. It surfaces sometimes, it’s [00:40:00] like an underground river that surfaces sometimes, like for example around the loss of someone we love. But it’s always been there, in fact I think it’s our common ground with one another, one of our common grounds.

The first experience of grief, which feels like fragmentation and isolation, with time and attention and healing, can become a path to wholeness. But you can’t somebody that at the beginning of their grieving process. All you can do is hang out with them and make a meal for them and help them do the insurance forms [00:40:30] and have them tell the story of their loss 10,000 times, until it feels real for them.

I think that … When I was running Zen Hospice, I’m not anymore but when I was the director there, I sometimes lost 20 or 30 people in a week. I had to learn how to deal with that grief. One of the things I did was I went to my meditation cushion, and that was a way to cultivate stability and assimilate, metabolize [00:41:00] if you will, the experience of loss. But that wasn’t enough, grief is a physical experience also. So I would go to my body worker. I’d go to his office and he’s say, “Where should we touch today Frank?” Instead of him doing some kind of manipulation on me I’d say, “Just my shoulder.” He’d put his hand on my shoulder and I would just cry for about an hour.

There was something about the touch and also the relationship with somebody else that allowed this grief [00:41:30] to really come forward and to be expressed, and as a way of metabolizing it, including it. Then I did something else, I would go to the hospital nearby, where my friends worked in the maternity ward, the nurses on the maternity ward. On that particular maternity ward there were babies who were born to addicted mothers. Before I would go home to my own children I would go there to this maternity ward and I would sit in a rocking chair and rock these little infants.

There was something about being able to soothe their distress, and [00:42:00] have them relax in my arms, that was very important and very helpful to me. Because there were other times when I was people who were dying whose, frankly, suffering I couldn’t soothe. I couldn’t. They died in difficult conditions. So I had to find ways to work with that grief that really worked for me. Each person’s grief is entirely different. I’m a little suspicious of models of grief, that we have us managing people’s [00:42:30] experience. I think there’s wonderful great value to things like bereavement groups et cetera, but sometimes they don’t allow for the wildness of grief, and grief can be completely wild, feel uncontrollable. It can have a huge effect on the way in which we function in the world.

In the old days it used to be that there was … You wore a special kind of clothing or a black arm band or something, to let people know that you’re in an altered state and that they should treat you different. They shouldn’t expect you to behave normally. [00:43:00] Now, your mother dies and you go to a party and nobody mentions it, because we’re afraid to upset you. So we leave you isolated and alone in your grief. I think that, again, the book but also my work, and I think it sounds like your way also, is to help people turn toward their experience. Even if the experience first feels unnerving in some way. Stay with it. Stay in the room when the going gets rough.

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:43:30] Yeah, I like that. I have a question that somebody posted. This is Johnny and he’s asking, “Is it fair to say that when we experience fear we might want to take a step back and try to find if there’s an opportunity hiding behind it?”

Frank Ostaseski:                   Well, I think that’s true. I think it’s a wise comment. The only thing that I would want to encourage us to do is to [00:44:00] not do a bypass around the fear, to be willing to feel it, to see, as you did earlier, sense it in the body, feel the effect in the heart, mood, et cetera, and to sere what the activity is in the mind that’s occurring, so that we get really familiar with the fear. I think also when we get very familiar with it in that way, we can see it in its arising, before it’s in its full explosion, before it’s in its full bloom so to speak.

But I think, yes, what Johnny’s suggesting, to take a backward step, [00:44:30] to step back then from all that activity of mind, heart and body, and say, “What else is here?” That’s my favorite question, what else is here? So in addition to the fear and my reaction to it, what else is here? There’s some spaciousness here. There’s some understanding that’s growing here. There’s some empathy that’s emerging here. So to ask that simple question, what else is here, I think is a wise way to interact with almost any [00:45:00] difficult emotional or mind state.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you. One other question that somebody commented, and this is kind of a different topic but I think this might be a fun little tangent or segue to explore here. This is Derek who’s asking, “Some speculate that we will at some point reach a time when science will be able to extend our lives indefinitely, so that we could effectively live forever. How [00:45:30] does Frank think this removal of death would affect us?”

Frank Ostaseski:                   That’s becoming an increasingly popular question. I was with a group of Silicon Valley folks not long ago and I said something like, “Death is inevitable.” A guy raised his hand and he said, “I’m not so sure about that. We’re trying to hack that.[inaudible 00:45:49] you know.” I said, “Okay, great.” I said, “You know, so we’ll live for 250 years or we’ll live for 500 years.” I said, “Let’s take the word death out of the equation for a moment. Let’s just take it out of the conversation. [00:46:00] Let’s just deal with how we think about endings. How do we meet endings in our life right now?”

Like the end of a sentence, or the end of a meal, or when you leave a party, how do you leave the party? Do you just ghost out, or do you say goodbye to people? How do you meet endings?” I think the way in which we meet endings can in fact have a big influence on how the next moment arises. The way we end one things tends to shape the next thing emerges. So I think that if we [00:46:30] could think, just for a moment let go of the notion of death as [inaudible 00:46:35] some final event, and just think about endings. That’s a really good place to explore, because even if we live forever there will be endings. There will be endings continuously through that experience. So even if we live forever there will be endings.

Noah Rasheta:                      You I was thinking as you were saying that-

Frank Ostaseski:                   My teacher used to- I’m sorry, I just wanted to add one more [00:47:00] thing, which was that my teacher used to say, “Suppose you could live forever, no matter what.” When we talk about living forever we assume we’re going to be in great health for the entire time. Maybe that’s not so. We were talking earlier about impermanence, I think we rely on impermanence. I think it’s not only what shows us beauty, it’s also something that gives us relief. You know, that really boring dinner party that you’re going to go to on Saturday, it’s going to end. [00:47:30] Or this cold that you have, it’s going to end. Or evil dictatorships will fall and hopefully be replaced by thriving democracies. We rely on things coming to and end.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I agree. I was going to say, the stages, like we had talked about before, those are stages that end. Presuming I could plan on living forever, there would be stages of life that have ended. [00:48:00] Memories I think fit into that, because even now I don’t remember the five year old me. What did I feel? What did I think? I don’t even remember the specific experiences that I was having. So in a way, that part of me is dead and gone.

If we reach this point where we can live forever, 2000 years from now, is that me going to be significantly different than the me that was talking to you here today? [00:48:30] Would I grieve that old me? I don’t know, but I think you’re right there will always be the opportunity to still live fully by keeping in mind the endings that life will always be having, the phases and the stages and the friendships and relationships, so many other endings.

Frank Ostaseski:                   I think the question is an interesting one philosophically. What does that do to the structure of the society, et cetera, if people live forever? I don’t know. I can’t imagine knowing [00:49:00] that. The thing that I would want to be careful of is that we won’t use a question like that to bypass our direct experience that we’re having now. The truth, the fact of the matter is now we don’t live for 2000 years. We live for a limited lifespan. So I want to know, how do I do that really well? How do I do that with as much integrity and as much passion and as much joy and fullness as I can muster? How do I love as hard as I possibly can this [00:49:30] life that is fragile and vulnerable?

Noah Rasheta:                      One of the things that I just thought of, there are ideologies and religious views that are built around the idea of this being a perpetual experience. Sure life ends, but then you continue to exist in an eternal state somewhere else, let’s say heaven or something like that. What I found for me, looking back to when I viewed it that way, was it can be easy [00:50:00] to bypass the present experience in anticipation of that future experience. Then things will be better but right now won’t do what I need to do to change my life now because I am projecting it the future. I think this thought of extending our ability to live forever can do the same thing. It can remove us from the full experience of being mindful in this moment, the only true moment that we have, the present.

Frank Ostaseski:                   [00:50:30] Yes. Look, there’s a thousand ways to distract ourselves and that’s just one of them. But also it’s kind of fun and playful to play with, “What if … ” Those are fun things to play with. I like my mind’s ability to imagine. I don’t know what happens after we die. I just don’t. Maybe all the things that religions have been telling for millenniums will in fact be so. [00:51:00] I think what tends to happen is, we tend to take our sense of self, which for the most part we construct as something separate and apart from everything else, and we imagine that continuing forever. That I don’t imagine happens. This personality isn’t, thank goodness, is not going to go on forever.

I think when we live in that way, it’s both a little absurd to me and also a little arrogant. I mean, here’s [00:51:30] what we usually do, which is everything is changing, like your eight year old son told you, right? “Caterpillars turn into butterflies dad, and seasons come and go.” Everything is constantly changing, except me. I’m the one thing in all of reality that doesn’t change. We have that idea about ourselves oftentimes, and it’s absurd. For me it’s also, when I see someone I haven’t seen in many years and they say, “Frank, it’s great to see you. You haven’t changed a bit.” I’m a little insulted [00:52:00] actually, because I think there’s been a lot of change in my life, over these 66 years. The fact is, death is not this thing that only happens at the end of a long road, it’s happening right now. This podcast will come to and end. My sentence will come to an end.

Noah Rasheta:                      With that I want to touch on the topic of uncertainty. [00:52:30] I think a lot of our discomfort arises out of what you mentioned before, I don’t know what happens when I die. What if we were okay with saying, “That’s a perfectly acceptable answer. We don’t know.” It seems like we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty that we feel the need to construct a certain narrative, even if it’s just a narrative or it’s fictional, but at least it’s certain.

We do this with not just thinking about death, but [00:53:00] an example I use often, we do this when we’re driving and someone cuts us off. It’s not okay for me to not know why that happened. I feel much more certain when I say, “That person’s a jerk, that’s why they did that.” I may be completely wrong but at least I’ve got an answer now. I wonder if our ability to increase our comfort around the discomfort of not knowing, what effect that would have on bigger topics, like the topic of death.

Frank Ostaseski:                   [00:53:30] Well, or climate or any number of other social issues that we have. I think the problem lies not in uncertainty but the fact that we feel not knowing with scary ideas, scary thoughts. The opposite of faith, we often say, is not doubt, it’s certainty. There’s a beautiful Buddhist teacher, Carol Hyman, and she wrote very beautifully. She said, ” [00:54:00] If we learn to let go into uncertainty and to trust that our basic nature and that of the world are not different, then the fact that things are not solid and fixed, this becomes a liberating opportunity rather than a threat.”

Noah Rasheta:                      I like that.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Everything will come apart Noah. This is true of our bodies, of our relationships, of our life. It’s happening all the time anyway, it’s not just at the end when the curtain falls. Coming [00:54:30] together inevitably means parting. Don’t be troubled by this, this is the nature of life. Our lives are not solid and fixed, no matter how much we try to protect ourselves and make white picket fences around our houses. I think knowing this intimately is how we prepare for death, also for any loss of any kind. It’s also how we really come to love and fully embrace constant change. We’re not just our past, we’re becoming. We’re not stuck. [00:55:00] We don’t have to be stuck in old grudges, we can forgive. We can free ourself from resentment and regret now, before we die.

Noah Rasheta:                      One of the, a common question I get when I’m exploring this topic in a workshop or somewhere is, if you have this mindset of just being anchored in the present moment, do you run the risk of becoming [00:55:30] indifferent to things in the future? Like, “I guess I’m not going to pursue this career path, because who knows where things will go now.” Is that a risk that we run? I have the answer I typically give for that, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on this idea.

Frank Ostaseski:                   I think initially it certainly is a risk. I know for myself when I first got introduced to notions of impermanence, I used it kind of as a club. It was a way to not invest in anything, in my relationships, in my early relationships [00:56:00] I thought, “Well it’s all impermanent, why invest here, why commit to anything?” But of course it’s just the opposite. It’s because things are impermanent, because they are so precarious, that they’re so precious. That’s why we love them so much. That’s we really we invest completely, not in some clinging craving way, but in a way that really honors and respects the fact that all relationships are characterized by constant change.

I think that that’s the first thing, [00:56:30] we can use it as a kind of defense against commitment and engagement. But the other is that it’s kind of freeing. It means that we’re not wedded to our past trauma. We’re not wedded to our future scary stories. The other thing I want to add here Noah, which I think is vastly misunderstood, is we often, and Buddhist practice is subject to this problem. [00:57:00] Which is that we talk about the present moment as if it were some nanosecond in time. Is that it? Did we just miss it? I think the present moment has to be understood to include past and future.

Eternity is not a long, long time. Saint Augustine wrote about this, he said, “The now is neither in time nor out of time.” So when we speak about the present moment, we’re talking about a moment that includes past and [00:57:30] future, not that avoids it. When I’m remembering my third grade teacher but I’m remembering her now, that’s a present moment activity. When I’m thinking about how I’ll be when I’m really old, that’s a present moment activity. It’s not like past and future are an illusion. I think that’s a misunderstanding. I think all of it exists here and now. That means that we have access to an awful lot here and now.

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:58:00] Yeah, I like that.

Frank Ostaseski:                   It means that we can fully invest without fear.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. You know, taking this concept and applying it in the present moment, I want to ask you about people who are currently going through a difficult stage, for example dealing with let’s say a child with mental health issues or suicidal thoughts, or the difficulties [00:58:30] of dealing with the possibility of death and feeling helpless. I think in scenarios like that part of the difficulty is recognizing the pain and suffering that a loved one is experiencing, and wanting to remove that from them. Talk to me a little bit about that, what tips or advice would you give to someone who’s going through a situation like that.

Frank Ostaseski:                   I’m careful about advice [00:59:00] you know because it’s cheap. It’s hard to give generalized advice without knowing the specifics of a situation. But I would say that one of the things that is helpful for me to keep in the back of my mind in part as I’m with someone in such a situation, is that to build an empathetic bridge to them I have to be willing to look at my own relationship to these issues. So I have to look at my own helplessness. I have to look at my own fear. I have to look at my own grief. [00:59:30] Otherwise, when I’m with them and I say I understand, they will know I’m just guessing. They’ll sniff out my sentimentality and my insincerity.

In order to really be of service to others I have to work of myself. That’s what enables me to be of service to others. Of course serving others I learn about myself, I grow and develop for myself, so there’s that mutuality of exchange that happens. But the other thing that I think is a misunderstanding, is that we often … Well, there’s a [01:00:00] lot of language out there around the confusion between empathy and compassion these days. [inaudible 01:00:04] that I feel with. Compassion is the action to do something to remove or alleviate the suffering.

We can get empathetically overloaded with people, even our own children. We need to feel with them, but we also … If I’m with granddaughter and she’s having a tantrum, I need to know that I can stay in my own seat and I [01:00:30] can use my wisdom and I can use my maturity and I can use my kind heart to comfort her. If I get over there and get lost in the tantrum with her, I can’t be of very much use, or I’m [inaudible 01:00:40] the action to her tension, I can’t be of very much use. So I have to really keep my own seat, that’s what I have to do.

Now compassion often is spoken about as taking away suffering or removing suffering. That’s good if you can do it, but you can’t always do it. I work with dying and I can’t take away [01:01:00] their dying. But what I find is that when I’m really abiding in a compassionate heart, that means that I’ve really done my homework, then they sense that and they’re willing to go to really dangerous places. Not because it’s going to be safe eventually, it’s because they’re companioned, they’re compassionately companioned. I think we underestimate sometimes the value of [01:01:30] simple human presence, particularly compassionate human presence, radical compassion that doesn’t always know what to do but it’s willing to be with the suffering, willing to stay in the room when the going gets rough. I think what happens is when compassion’s there, just one more thing on this.

When compassion is present, our defenses against what’s difficult fall down, and then we can see the deeper causes [01:02:00] of the suffering, and then we can actually intervene ourselves or help another to intervene in their experience in a skillful way. So compassion does more than just take away things, it allows us to stay with something until a deeper truth can show itself. Real actual truth of the real suffering can show itself, and then we can do something about it.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I like that. Thank you for sharing that. I think that touches on the second invitation [01:02:30] of welcoming everything and pushing away nothing. Recognizing that situations like that, there may not be answers. So you’re with that person and knowing that, “Hey, this is going to be a rough ride. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. But I’m here with you.” I think we can add … It’s already a moment of difficulty but we can add to it by adding that second [01:03:00] arrow, where now we’re there thinking, “This isn’t how this should feel. There should be an answer. There should be something that solves this whole problem,” and sometimes there’s not.

Frank Ostaseski:                   No, and you know the answer isn’t always to solve the problem. Sometimes the answer is in simply keeping company with people. I’ve been with some people in really horrible conditions and I couldn’t do much to make those conditions go away, but in fact I could keep company with them. [01:03:30] I think it also is useful not to just imagine … to use our skillful action, to use our wise hearts in action. I remember coming into a situation where there was a patient who was very sick, coming close to the end of life.

The volunteer was there and I said, “How is it going?” She said, “Well, she’s having a really hard time but we’re just being with it.” She was in this kind of mediative pose. I look at [inaudible 01:03:53] sweating up a storm. I said, “Well, it’s good that you’re being with her, but let’s get a cool rag, let’s cool down her forehead and [01:04:00] going to her some ibuprofen because that will help with the fever.” We want to make skillful interventions as well when they seem appropriate. We want to use our intelligence and our good kind hearts. Together they make for a very reliable guide.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I like that. Do you have any specific mediation techniques? Or are there mediations that facilitate [01:04:30] with this idea of becoming more mindful of death? It looks like I may have lost the signal there from Frank. I’ll give it a moment, see if he-

Frank Ostaseski:                   Are we still [crosstalk 01:04:49]

Noah Rasheta:                      There you are.

Frank Ostaseski:                   I almost lost you there. Sorry, you started to say something and then I lost your audio.

Noah Rasheta:                      Okay. Yeah, so my question was, do you know of any … [01:05:00] are there any meditative techniques or guided meditations that help us to be more mindful of death? I’m thinking something like meta-mediation for kindness and compassion. Is there something that’s the equivalent that deals with thinking about death?

Frank Ostaseski:                   Sure, there’s lots of them. There are various visualization practices, visualizing one’s own dying. There are these kinds of practices that we can do, [01:05:30] but I think it’s best to keep it simple and really look and see, what happens at the end of an exhale. What happens there in that gap between the next inhale? That’s a moment, right? It’s a moment of faith or a moment of fear. Do you really trust the next breath will arise and that you’ll be able [inaudible 01:05:53] or are you afraid that it won’t come and you feel like you have to manage? I think that learning to [01:06:00] be simple in our lives and deal with our everyday life, not thinking of some other meditation outside of our life but just before going to bed at night reflecting on one’s own day. Looking back and seeing with gratitude what this day was like, and that is important. My wife asks, and I sometimes, before we go to sleep we ask each other four questions. I just want to be sure you’re still there Noah.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, I’m still there.

Frank Ostaseski:                   The four questions were given to me by another friend, Angela [Sarian 01:06:30]. [01:06:30] The first one is, what inspired you today? Beautiful. Second question is, what challenged you today? Because we don’t just grow in our comfort zones as we spoke earlier. The third one is, what surprised you today? That’s a really good one. Children love surprises. You can play peekaboo with my granddaughter 10,000 times and she loves it, but throw a surprise party for an adult and they say, “Who’s responsible for this?” [01:07:00] So, what surprised you today? The last one is, what did you learn about love today? That’s a beautiful question to ask.

So, what inspired you? What challenged you? What surprised you? And, what did you learn about love today? These are a great practice [inaudible 01:07:18] my dear friend Angela Sarian who died a few years ago. Those are practices I think that help us. Wouldn’t they be great questions to ask as we come close to the end of our life? Why not practice them now?

Noah Rasheta:                      [01:07:30] I noticed question just popped and I know we’re kind of getting towards the end of the hour, so I just wanted to extend the invitation to anyone who’s listening, if you have any questions that you would like to ask, now would be a great time to post them. One already did, this is Johnny asking, “How important is closure before death?”

Frank Ostaseski:                   Well you know, it’s an ideal to try and [01:08:00] come to. But I’m a little suspicious of our ideas of closure, which is that everything gets wrapped up nice and tidy. My experience is that you close this and the next thing opens. So what I was saying earlier about watching the way we meet endings is really useful. Some people come to the end of their lives and they have meaningful conversations with family or friends or people that perhaps they’ve had challenges with, and that’s really helpful for [01:08:30] them to step into their dying process. For others that’s more of an internal process, and they come to that understanding within themselves, not through relational conversations.

I think what I really want to be careful of is that we don’t setup a kind of idealistic idea about what has to happen for death. One of the things that happens in this culture is we put a lot of weight on dying people to do it well or to die well or to [01:09:00] have a good death or all those things. Instead of recognizing that when we speak about a good death, we might not know what that actually is like internally and spiritually for someone. We don’t really know what it is that we need next oftentimes.

What I think we can do is look at the systems and say, “Did the system support this person in a way that really helped them? Or did the system abandon them?” We can evaluate the system and help us really look and see how to do that, how to help people when they’re dying [01:09:30] better. But I don’t think it’s so helpful to evaluate people’s way of dying as a way of understanding what a good death is. I’ve seen people die opening in great kindness. I’ve also seen people die telling the people in front of them that they hate them. Both of them in my view were actually [inaudible 01:09:54] appropriate to those individuals.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah, thank you for [01:10:00] clarifying that, because I agree with you on that view. I think it’s dangerous when we start to decide what is a good death, what is a bad death.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Again, I think we can say something about the system. From our healthcare system or other systems, how are we supporting this person? Did we take care of their symptoms? Did we manage their pain? Did we give them a certain degree of autonomy? What did we do? Those are things that we should evaluate I think.

Noah Rasheta:                      I [01:10:30] think if we were to take that and flip it to what is a good life, what is a bad life, we can run into some of those same issues. But ending this on a note where we’re talking about life, because your book has these invitations but the ultimate premise is that we’re discovering what death can teach us about fully living. So ending it on that note with this concept of what it means to be fully living, what do you have to [01:11:00] say with regards to the concept of fully living? What does that look like?

Frank Ostaseski:                   Well of course it’s going to look individually quite different to different people. I think that’s part of the beauty of this incredibly beautiful opportunity we call life. That said, I think that living a life that is multi-dimensional I think is really a good way to think about it. Our life doesn’t proceed in a linear [01:11:30] way. Living it on the horizontal but also on the vertical we could say. Those two planes of existence if you will I think are really important to consider.

Is it a life characterized by integrity? Is it a life characterized by meaning and purpose? Is is a life that includes or aims at belonging? These are the really big questions that really matter for us. Do we find ourself? [01:12:00] Do we recognize the interdependency of our lives? That everything we do and say affects everything else and everyone else, and that we are affected and supported by everything else that happens in reality. I think a full life or a life that’s fully lived is a life that begins to recognize these things as well and temper our notions of control. I think that’s really important [01:12:30] to conclude as well.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. That’s great. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you about this topic. Like I mentioned before, I’m grateful that you took the time to make this appointment work to be able to jump on live with someone you’ve never talked to, and to spend an hour with me talking about such an important topic. A topic that at some point brushes [01:13:00] up against every single one of us.

Frank Ostaseski:                   It’s brushing up against us right now Noah. You know what I mean? It’s not like it’s, again, it’s just something that happens at the end a long long life. It’s here in this moment. This podcast is about to come to and end, right?

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. [crosstalk 01:13:15]

Frank Ostaseski:                   So how do meet it? I want to end it by saying thank you. I really want to say thank you to you for doing it, first of all, and for inviting me to be your guest and to engage people in such a lively conversation. I don’t think my book or my life is about [01:13:30] just preparing for dying. I think that’s a short lived understanding. I think it’s, how do we use death, the presence of death, to really help us see what matters most in this life?

Inevitably, and most of the people I’ve worked with who are dying, they’ve asked two questions Noah. Not big philosophical questions, they’re more questions like, “Am I loved?” And, “Did I love well?” Those are the two questions that come to people’s hearts and minds as they [01:14:00] come to the end of their life. We don’t need to wait until death to ask ourselves those questions or to answer them. We can do it now. I want to leave your listeners and viewers with that reflection. You want to a reflection on death, ask yourself those two questions.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that. I would add that for me the five invitations are absolutely invitations about life. Like you said, it’s a book [01:14:30] that uses death as the topic to really talk about life. It’s a book about life, and quite a powerful book. If you’re interested in learning about the five invitations in Frank Ostaseski’s book, you can pick that up I’m sure on Amazon. I will be posting a link to it on the interview that I’m doing. This interview will be transcribed, so for those who want to re-read it, or listen to it, or watch it, all of those links will be posted. [01:15:00] I’ll share with that you [crosstalk 01:15:01]

Frank Ostaseski:                   Can I add one more thing, if [crosstalk 01:15:04]

Noah Rasheta:                      Absolutely.

Frank Ostaseski:                   One is, I now continue to [inaudible 01:15:07] an organization called the Metta Institute, mettainsitute.org. They can find us on the web, or they can go to fiveinvitations.com and there they can find not only information about the book but lots of articles and podcasts and other things that help people in different domains of their life, people working with grief, healthcare professionals that want to know more about how to be a mindful healthcare professional. People who want to be compassionate companions in their life. [01:15:30] People who want to step into life more fully.

There are articles, blogs, all kinds of stuff on the site that we made available just as a gift to the world, so people can find it there on fiveinvitations.com. The other is that, you know, I’m not very good at self-promotion but, I want to encourage people to look at the book or to get the audiobook, which I read. Because I think it’s not just a good self-exploration but it’s a great conversation to have with people you care about. The book is a really [01:16:00] interesting way to have that conversation, people are doing it in book clubs and such. Get a couple for the holidays as gifts, and have the conversation with your family. Talk to your parents, talk to your kids about this. There isn’t a more important conversation to have.

Noah Rasheta:                      I want to endorse that message, because I wouldn’t have you on the podcast if I hadn’t read the book, and if I didn’t think the book was of tremendous value [01:16:30] to anyone who’s going to read it. So yes, I read the book, I wholeheartedly recommend it to especially the podcast listeners who are typically people who are trying to do exactly that, live more fully, live more mindfully.

Death is a great way to do that, the way Frank presents that is wonderful. I listened to it on Audible, and I don’t know if you noticed in this last hour, it’s a pleasant experience to hear Frank talk and [01:17:00] that’s who reads the book. So if you’re going to read it by listening to it, that’s another plus, it’s actually Frank who’s reading it. Are there any other sites that you would want to point people to if they want to follow you or your thoughts, do you have a Twitter account or anything like that?

Frank Ostaseski:                   Yeah, they can find me on Twitter. It’s @FOstaseski or @FiveInvitations. If they go to the websites they can find events and things. We just posting the stuff for 2018 now. They can find out where I’m teaching around the country, around the world for that matter. I teach [01:17:30] all over the world. There’ll be more information after January 1st on those sites. Thank you Noah, thank you again. I really appreciate the conversation and the directness with which you engaged me. Thank you.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you. I will stay in touch with you by email. I would love to maybe have the opportunity to have another conversation at some point.

Frank Ostaseski:                   Sure [crosstalk 01:17:54] happy to, really happy to.

Noah Rasheta:                      Okay. Happy holidays, thanks again, and thank [01:18:00] you to everyone who listened in live. We will catch you guys next time. Until next time.

61 – Mindful Relationships & Social Justice – Yael Shy

In this podcast episode, I am sharing the audio of an interview with Yael Shy. Yael offers expert guidance on beginning a meditation practice and explores how to bring that practice to relationships, social justice, and the general ups and downs of everyday life.

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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.
It looks like we are streaming live now here on the Crowdcast platform and on social media channels. Welcome, everyone who’s listening in live. I am Noah Rasheta, host of the Secular Buddhism podcast. I am excited to have Yael Shy with me here today. Yael is an author. Her recent book titled, What Now? is going to be one of the topics [00:00:30] of our discussion today, but really quickly Yael is the founder and director of MindfulNYU which happens to be the largest campus wide meditation initiative in the country.

She’s also the senior director for the Center for Global Spiritual Life at New York University. She leads meditation workshops around the country and around the world. She’s been published in the Harvard Business Review, [00:01:00] Huffington Post, the Journal of Interreligious Studies among other publications, and she lives in Brooklyn with her husband and son. I’m really excited to have her on the show today because she offers expert guidance on not just meditation practice but I think more specifically how to bring mindfulness in this practice into things like relationships love, social media, how we interact on social media, [00:01:30] social justice, activism and just the general ups and downs of everyday life. With that, welcome, Yael. Thank you for being on the show.

Yael Shy:                                   So happy to be here. Thank you so much. I’m a big fan of the show and the podcast, whole thing.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you. Just to clarify for those of you who are following us live, this is streaming on the various social channels but the platform we’re using to do this interview is Crowdcast. Now, those of [00:02:00] you who are watching through the Crowdcast platform, have the ability to submit questions. Towards the end of the discussion, we will open up the questions specific to what we’re talking about today.

If you’re on Facebook, or Periscope, or YouTube watching this live and you post questions in the comments, we may not see those live. I’ll go back and look for those after the interview. Yael, if she has time, she may do that too, but the once [00:02:30] that we will certainly entertain are the ones that are posted on the Crowdcast platform. If you are watching this stream somewhere else and you want to join this one, the actual platform, it’s crowdcast.io/e/yael which is Y-A-E-L dash Shy. It’s kind of a complicated URL to give out on the spot like that.

I’m excited to talk about a [00:03:00] couple of topics specifically. I think the two I’m most excited about are the expertise that Yael brings to the topic of mindfulness and relationships because we are all in relationships. It’s not just romantic relationships which I think is key here but any relationship, relationships with siblings, with parents, with children and then the other overall topic is social activism. We’re going [00:03:30] to talk a little but about that. Specifically, how do we change the world without burning out?

Let’s start with the first one, mindfulness and relationships. Before we jump into that, tell us a little bit, Yael about how you got into mindfulness meditation Buddhism. Tell us a little bit about your journey?

Yael Shy:                                   Sure. I started meditating when I was [00:04:00] college junior and really I came to it from a lot of suffering, a lot of stress and not just the stress that people often talk about with college students like so much homework. Fights with the parents. Deep existential stress about what is the point of being alive, what is my role in this world, how am I supposed to [00:04:30] survive when all of these range of feelings just rushing through me in a lot of anxiety and fear just constantly. I was having panic attacks regularly and the circumstances of my life were falling apart around me and my parents were getting divorced.

I had ended a relationship, I felt very lonely and alone. I was struggling hard and so then I [00:05:00] was having a really hard time. I sought out a bunch of different kinds of advice, what am I supposed to do? How am I supposed to get better and my mother actually passed along to me a flyer about a meditation retreat, a seven-day silent meditation retreat. No concept of what that was, I’ve never meditated-

Noah Rasheta:                      [inaudible 00:05:22]

Yael Shy:                                   Yeah. It was crazy because I was imagining like a nice spa, vacation with [00:05:30] maybe hot tubs or massages and I get to that retreat center and it was really just seven days of … From morning until night meditation without much of a break at all. We weren’t allowed to talk to anyone. We weren’t supposed to be making eye contact. It was extremely intense. I had multiple panic attacks with a couple of days. I was having fantasies about hot-wiring cars and getting out [00:06:00] of that place.

Then about midway through in the retreat, I finally got to talk to a teacher about all the stress I was experiencing and I said, “I’m just so full of fear all the time.”He said to me, “Fear doesn’t like the light. If you shine a light on it then sometimes you can help to understand and fear will eventually disperse.” That began that process of trying to look at what was underneath all [00:06:30] that anxiety, what the root of so much of that panic and stress.

That really just started the journey for the rest of my life in this world and this meditation world because it almost immediately cracked through so much of that pain and anxiety that I was experiencing on a daily basis. Of course, it didn’t solve it right away but over the years, it almost transformed the chemical [00:07:00] makeup of my body so that … I really haven’t had a panic attack, I don’t know, like 10 years almost. That’s how I came to this practice.

Noah Rasheta:                      Wow. It seems intense suffering is a common path for people to find their way to this path, right?

Yael Shy:                                   Right.

Noah Rasheta:                      I know that’s certainly the case for me. It’s the case for a lot of people I’ve encountered. It seems [00:07:30] like these meditation retreats almost all consistently somewhere around that halfway mark is when people realize, “Okay, I can do this and then it becomes a really neat experience after that.” Why do you think that is? Is it because we’re just not used to doing anything remotely close to sitting in silence for that long?

Yael Shy:                                   Yes. I think we’re not used to it on multiple levels. We’re not used to it on just like our everyday consciousness [00:08:00] level but our bodies are not used to it. In the beginning, everything is screaming either in pain or I know many people who just slept through their first three days. I have no idea what it’s doing. You sit it down and you say don’t move. It’s bed time. There’s all kinds of things that come up. The Buddha call these things hindrances that come up when we sit down for meditation.

[00:08:30] Especially for beginners who do what I … I mean I did a crazy thing. Most people have had some experience, exposure to meditation before you do that but retreats are just incredible incubators of ourselves and most of us do not fit with ourselves and our minds for that intensity for that amount of time.

Noah Rasheta:                      When I think of meditation in general as the art of [00:09:00] becoming comfortable with discomfort, I think retreat is like what you’re describing. That’s bootcamp, right? That’s the-

Yael Shy:                                   It is bootcamp.

Noah Rasheta:                      You’re going to sit there and it’s going to hurt until suddenly at some point, you become more comfortable with that discomfort. I imagine that’s why it’s so transformative too.

Yael Shy:                                   That’s right. Yes, that’s right. It’s just that if anybody is thinking about doing one. You haven’t done one yet. The real key is just to have as much as you can to muster the faith that something will [00:09:30] happen. That’s what we promise whenever I lead a retreat that something will happen. You don’t know exactly what it will be but it’s just to hang in there through those tortures. For some people beginning time. Maybe not for everyone but certainly for me as an early day.

Noah Rasheta:                      Cool. Thanks for sharing that. Let’s jump in to the topic of mindfulness and relationships. You have a chapter in your book. [00:10:00] I’m trying to remember exactly what it’s called. Is it mindfulness and relationships? Oh, mindful relationships. That’s exactly what it’s called. In the chapter, mindful relationships, you bring together the … You merge the concepts of how does mindfulness benefit a relationship. Let’s talk about that a little bit, summarize the marriage of these two [00:10:30] things.

Yael Shy:                                   Sure. Like you said, everybody’s inversions of relationships. I think what we all crave out of relationships is to be fully seen and heard to be felt and seen for who we really are and to be heard, our voices heard or our needs heard even of the other person can’t always meet the needs or can’t [00:11:00] fulfill our dreams, our fantasies, to really be seen is so healing and what so many of us are seeking. In order to then be able to really see another person and to see them in their totality then I think the practice of meditation and mindfulness enables us to see ourselves to open up our own hearts to ourselves to see the [00:11:30] ugly and the difficult parts to see the parts that we believe are beautiful and strong and to have space

The more we do for all of those different elements. The more we do that, the more we cultivate a loving appreciative accepting relationships to ourselves, the more we have space to let in the totality of another person and to really see them rather than what often happens which is we use the frame [00:12:00] of another person to try and discover whether or not we are lovable and the person feels used and feels unseen and we feel frustrated because we’re not getting the right answers. We’re not getting to the right thing and everybody suffers.

The best metaphor I’ve heard about this is from a Zen teacher named Thich Nhat Hanh who I’m sure many of your listeners know. [00:12:30] He talks about how if you put a handful of salt in a glass of water and you try and drink it and you can’t drink it, it’s disgusting, but if you put a much even more than a handful of salt in a very large, clear lake, you can still drink it and there’s enough space for it to dissolve and the lake water can still taste delicious. The metaphor being that when we have a lot of room and space for the difficult things that arise [00:13:00] and for the different parts of ourselves, then we have that room and space for other people.

Noah Rasheta:                      I like that, the analogy of the salt. I think about from the psychological standpoint we have the negativity bias where … I forget the ratios but for every X amount of good things … For every one bad thing, it takes X amount of good things to offset that. [00:13:30] Do you know that ratios? Is it 4-10, something like that?

Yael Shy:                                   [inaudible 00:13:35]

Noah Rasheta:                      It’s happier. It’s like this.

Yael Shy:                                   Yes, exactly.

Noah Rasheta:                      I think in relationships that becomes really evident, right? Especially, romantic relationships your spouse can do 10 nice things but then they do that one thing and boom, that’s where the focus goes. I imagine this concept of the salt [00:14:00] being like that. It’s like if you’re just focusing on this, it’s really salty but increase your awareness and you … It’s not the circumstance has changed but the perspective changed. That’s something I like that you highlighted in your book, bringing it back inward because what we’re trying to do through mindfulness practice in general is that same thing and relationship through reality.

There’s reality and then there’s me. I feel separate from it and everything I’m looking for is out there [00:14:30] but then mindfulness tweaks this and you turn that shift, you start to look inward and realize it’s here, it’s me. I think that’s hard to do in a relationship because we’re programmed to think everything I’m looking for in the success of this relationship is contingent on that other person. It’s outward, right?

Yael Shy:                                   Yes.

Noah Rasheta:                      When you notice like when we start to acquire these principles, mindfulness principles into something [00:15:00] like a relationship. You brought up this concept of the mirror, that relationships are like a mirror. I really like that. so tell me a little bit about how does that really work in a practical sense? I’m in a relationship, with my wife for example and there’s this mirror. What are some of the common things that we hope to see if we don’t realize it’s a mirror but when I realize it’s a mirror what do we start to see, what changes?

Yael Shy:                                   [00:15:30] It’s a great question. I’ll use myself as an example because that’s the easiest for me to use. I was single for a long time, much longer than I wanted to be. I think I put a lot of hope and pressure if I met someone and they saw me as the one, the most beautiful, the best [00:16:00] person in their life that I would finally in the inside really feel that way about myself that I was worthy, that I was lovable. It meant so much to me that many potential suitors came along and if I sense even a little bit that any of them couldn’t do that for me, couldn’t present to me with that picture of you are everything [00:16:30] and then either it was my fear or something else just kept getting in the way and I kept thinking, “That person is not for me. That person is not for me.”

When I finally met my husband and we were getting serious then nearly all of our fights in those early years were from my … The ones that I started were sparked by this feeling of jealousy [00:17:00] that he secretly wanted to be with someone else that he really liked someone else better, that he thought someone else was more attractive. The feeling in me would be just so much shame and fear and anxiety and pain because I was still looking outward to get that inner feeling of I’m lovable, I’m worthy.

Even though he was giving me a lot of love and was giving [00:17:30] me a lot of support, as long as it’s outward, it will never be enough. That’s what I realized. We all want outward love and attention and that’s fine but when it’s to answer that core question about ourselves, then we’re never going to be happy. It’s never going to be satisfying and that’s where a lot of my mindfulness practice had to come in. I had to say in those most difficult [00:18:00] moments, you know what, this relationship is now, it is just about me looking in the mirror of myself and my own worth and whether or not I believed myself that it’s about my own worth, it be different if he was giving me a lot of evidence that he really wasn’t that into me but that wasn’t happening.

That’s where the mirror comes in once you see, you know what, this is happening over and over again. This is triggering something [00:18:30] all over and over again and once you see it then you have to go back in and every time I was about to start a fight along these lines and this has been until recent years really that I had to take a break. I had to take some space and I needed to bring a lot of love and compassion to my own painful experience of what that felt like to just not really fully have that strong [00:19:00] sense of I’m lovable, I’m fine, I’m beautiful, I’m okay. It took a lot to do that and then part of it is to grieve almost that the partner is not going to be able to do that for you. They can give you a lot of wonderful things but they can’t answer that essential question.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that. Something I want to clarify. Can you hear that echo or is that just me?

Yael Shy:                                   [00:19:30] Maybe a slight one but nothing that’s distracting to me.

Noah Rasheta:                      That went away now. With this concept of looking inward and finding the contentment and the love there first, I want to clarify to anyone listening. We’re not saying that as long as I love myself I can stay in this unhealthy relationship with this person who’s abusive or something [00:20:00] like that. That’s not at all what this is insinuating. I think what I’m hearing and I want to be clear about it is what Yael is saying is the sense of completeness that comes in the relationship only comes when it’s complete here on your side when you are okay with you then you can be okay with it. That’s when the relationship can be completely whole.

I want [00:20:30] to correlate this to this societal view of my other half and the idea is that I’m half and someone else is going to complete me but with that other half, you’re not whole and this is saying, “No, that’s nonsense.” This is saying, “Mindfulness helps you realize you are it. You are essentially it and when you are whole, you take a whole and whatever the other is, that other maybe half or maybe … ” [00:21:00] It doesn’t matter. Wherever that other thing is, you work well with the other part because you are whole. Does that sound more of the lines of what you are insinuating?

Yael Shy:                                   Yes. The only thing I want to also clarify in there is absolutely, yes. This is not about a settling like if you can’t find someone that you’re matching with and you should just settle for them because it’s really all about you, don’t believe in that. Not a good idea or accepting people [00:21:30] being unkind or not good to you, absolutely not. That’s just really a lot of … It’s just more suffering. I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying with the person you really love and once you’ve had the chance to really see that person, then we come to that question of in each of these difficult interactions where are you and who is that and where is this [00:22:00] appropriate boundary?

My stepfather who is a very wise man always says this line. Love is boundaries and we don’t think of it that way. Especially in the Buddhist world, we are all one and we are interconnected which is very true but I think what it comes to relationships that seeing and understanding the boundary where someone else begins and you end is … Even in a relative [00:22:30] sense is really, really important. All kinds of relationships, romantic and otherwise.

Before I forget, the one thing I just wanted to adjust is that it’s not a static process. It’s not like, “I am at one with all of myself. I am fully enlightened and love myself. Now, I’m ready to be in a relationship.” It’s a constant process of back and forth, and figuring out what’s yours [00:23:00] and what’s the other persons, and just trying to be awake to the whole thing even if you’re still stuck in the really hard place. You don’t love yourself where you have a lot of self-loathing, just trying to be aware that it goes a long way.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you for clarifying that. From the Buddhist perspective we talked about and acknowledged that things are impermanent. In other words, everything is [00:23:30] changing, constant change. When a relationship … I mean this is extremely evident because then there’s the me that was me when I got married, for example and that’s not the me that I am today. Same with my partner, with my wife, she’s not the person I married and I hear this from people all the time. Concepts like, “Oh, that’s not who I married.”

It’s like, “Well, of course. That’s absolutely not who you married and you’re not who they married.” [00:24:00] This idea of looking in the mirror relative to time is you’re always looking in the mirror because you’re not the you, you were five minutes ago, much less the you that you were … When you got married or when you started the relationship. Emphasizing that this process is dynamic. If you ever think we got it, we figured it out we’re there, that’s when you should probably worry because you don’t get to the point as you’re always getting there and I think I like thinking about [00:24:30] that in terms of relationships especially romantic ones with my wife.

I’m thinking, we’ll never get there. That’s the point. We’re always building and working on the dynamic of our relationship. Who is the me that is in love today? Who is the person that I’m loving today because that’s not the same person from yesterday and the ability to keep it fluid like that, I think in our case has been really helpful. It was a period in a [00:25:00] time in my life when I felt like things were stagnant.

I’m the me that I’ve always been … That’s when there was conflict where I was thinking is this not my soul mate? Did I pick the wrong half? Is there another half that would have been more suitable because I was thinking in terms of that sense of permanence of the relationship but when I lean to look in the mirror that was a drastic change and when I understood [00:25:30] the aspect of impermanence in the relationship that changed the dynamic?

Yael Shy:                                   So well said. It’s this process of continually waking up and being like, “Who’s in front of me? Who is this person? When you’re together a long time, I think my understanding, I haven’t been together yet with my husband for longer than … I think we’re going into 40 years but I think it’s even more important to just really see the person instead of being like the kind of hazy, “I know who you [00:26:00] are.” Certainly if you have kids, if you have any of these relationships in our lives I think to really keep committing yourself over and over.

The same way we come back in meditation practice over and over again, what’s happening now, what’s real now. What a story in my mind, we come back to this person, who is this person now, how are we interacting now? Who am I now in this thing? It’s a beautiful practice. It’s a really [00:26:30] intense beautiful practice.

Noah Rasheta:                      I think it requires a lot of vulnerability too because to show up and just be seen like this is me. It seems like in relationship especially the romantic ones, we’re always adding layers. I did this for a long time in my marriage. I’m trying to be who I think she things I should be. I’m measuring myself who I am versus who I think … [00:27:00] The layers are insane here because it’s who I think you think I think you should … you know? It gets really crazy. You’re doing the same thing back. You’re comparing your partner.

It’s like are you allowing them to be who they are or who you think they should be or who they think you think they should be. It gets extremely complicated with the layers and masks that we put on and I think the mindfulness approach is just saying … Like you just said you show up and you just ask, “Well, who am I [00:27:30] and who is this and what is now? What is happening now? Why are we saying this? Why am I feeling this? That I think is a really powerful exercise.

Yael Shy:                                   Yes. The times when I felt like that [inaudible 00:27:43] love for my partner is often times those times when I’m like, “Look at this person that’s sitting on the couch with me,” that I’m like, “Did you pick up the milk yesterday?” I usually just kind of … Not ignoring, not taking for granted but just they were [00:28:00] a piece of the furniture but when I look and I’m like, “Wow. This a miracle. We’re trying this thing together. We’re doing this thing together.” That’s where this swellings of love come from because I think it’s impossible to feel that all the time. Moments are really special.

Noah Rasheta:                      Yeah. That’s been great. I want to take this concept and expand it a little to other forms of relationships, something [00:28:30] that you mention in the book that stood out to me was your understanding of the relationship of love in terms of your son. How old is your son?

Yael Shy:                                   He’s 13 months and I have another on the way, actually.

Noah Rasheta:                      Congratulations.

Yael Shy:                                   Thank you.

Noah Rasheta:                      You mentioned something that really resonated with me because I have three kids ages five, eight and two but you mentioned this realization that with your son [00:29:00] you would give your life up for him in a heartbeat, no questions asked. There’s this idea of conditional love that I think we get stuck in like I love you because you love me but if you didn’t love me then I probably wouldn’t love you back, right?

Then suddenly kids come along and you discover this new level where it’s truly unconditional. I don’t need anything out of it. The joy of it is that I get to love you and that’s what I was gathering as I was reading that [00:29:30] part in your book where you’re talking about your son. Let’s talk about that a little bit. It reminded me of like meta-practice where you’re trying to have that sense of unconditional love for someone. You start with someone where that’s natural.

When I do this exercise I start with my kids then expand it from there. How can I love my wife and that same unconditional way about my kids, parents, siblings and you move up from there. Let’s talk about that a little bit. How do you experience with [00:30:00] that?

Yael Shy:                                   I wrote in the book and I still feel this way like that is the edge, very interesting. Writing about that was in reference to the heart sutra which talks about just like a mother at the risk of her own life protects and cradles her only child. This we have a boundless love for the entire world. In this heart sutra, the comparison [00:30:30] is like a mother with your only child. You have the same boundless love for the whole world. When the first time I read that, it was before I had kids, I was like, “That sounds wonderful. I had that.”

Now, where we come back down to the kind of brass text of it, definitely not. I definitely feel a different way about my family than I do about the world even if I may not wish anyone harm in the world. That just [00:31:00] entire like a love that goes that deeply that I feel is so deeply connected is not present in the same way but I had a little moment, it’s like just actually maybe a year ago on a retreat, we had a light … We broke one of those light bulbs and I wasn’t sure of the light bulb was fluorescent or not. [00:31:30] You know how when you break a fluorescent light … Not fluorescent but one of those eco-friendly light bulbs.

Noah Rasheta:                      The ones that just explode when they break.

Yael Shy:                                   It’s so annoying. In mercury, and you’re supposed to abandon the area and air it out and all this kind of stuff. I was pregnant at the time. I remember when the light bulb broke, it was on the floor and in the room, it was a large room. We were about to do a meditation and they were [00:32:00] cleaning up the light bulb and we still at that moment didn’t know if it was that kind with the mercury and I said like, “You know what, I’m pregnant so I’m going to take my cushion and sit on the other end of the room. Then I’ll feel better.”

As I did that, and as I started seeing all of the retreatments come into the room and some sitting right next to the broken … Where that broken light bulb was. I just started to have this horrible feeling like what is the difference between [00:32:30] this life that I’m trying to protect inside of me and this beautiful life that’s over there sitting potentially near this source of poison. Just all of a sudden, I got up and I was like, “You know, wait. We have to actually figure this out. I can’t just protect myself. This is ridiculous.

I think it’s because I was in that heightened heart space of a retreat where I could actually tap into that. There is literally no difference. A life [00:33:00] is a life and everybody deserves that kind of love and care, so little pockets. It turned out it was not that kind of a light bulb. It’s just little edges of where the heart can be really expanded to include more and more people. I love the way you connect it to meta-practice because that’s we’re like going to the gym and weightlifting to expand our hearts that wide.

Noah Rasheta:                      [00:33:30] Similar to what you’re describing, for me it’s been in those moments of practicing that I get those glimpses either seeing somebody connecting for a moment. Maybe it’s just mentally doing meta-practice but it’s like for a minute, I can grasp the concept of truly loving everyone the same way I love my own children that feels incredible. Then you get back into the daily routine like the habitual reactivity of [00:34:00] life and it’s not was easy but I love that you just compared it to the gym because it’s the same way with the gym.

It’s like what makes it work is that you call the time and it’s consistent and you do a routine. That’s when after X amount of months or something. That’s when you notice you’re a lot stronger now. I think this is similar. It’s practice, practice , practice and then one day you realize, “It comes naturally to feel the compassion [00:34:30] and the unconditional love much easier than I did before.”

Yael Shy:                                   Yeah. A teacher said that it’s sort of like the heart is one muscle so it’s like open or close. It’s not like a dimmer switch that you can keep in one area? As you work that muscle, it’s going to keep opening and opening and more and more people can fit but when we’re tightened around [00:35:00] just a little nuclear family, it’s actually not … It’s not as liberating. Like you said, it doesn’t feel good. It actually doesn’t feel very good. It feels tight and constricted.

Noah Rasheta:                      Great. If you were to offer just one snippet of advice to someone listening who is saying I want to have a more mindful [00:35:30] relationship with whoever they’re thinking of whatever. What tips would you give? Are there specific meditation techniques or just advice to someone who wants to introduce mindfulness into their relationships?

Yael Shy:                                   I have a meditation on mindful love meditation in the back of my book and on that one, it’s about realizing, [00:36:00] coming home to and realizing how much you have been loved over the course of your life and how much you have loved because I think where a lot of us run into trouble and run into difficulty with relationships is feeling of like we’re coming in and we’re beggars and we’re empty and the other person must fill us or must meet our need because we don’t have anything here. This practice focus is from the beginning [00:36:30] even if people hurt you when you were a child, even if things were not wonderful which is the case for a lot of us, somewhere along the line to how do you survive until this day, so many people did acts of love to keep you alive.

Then you maybe without even knowing it have had enough in you to do acts of love for other people. Starting to tap into that fullness within oneself [00:37:00] in meditation I think is really helpful for relationships. That’s number one. Then I think number two is really helpful to do that practice that we were talking about really trying to see who is this other person and who am I and really going back and forth on those pieces.

Then there’s the communication piece that [00:37:30] when you’re really communicating with someone, when you’re in a fight know when you need to take time away. One of my favorite lines on this is strike when the iron is cool, never hot. Get really cool if you possibly can before you engage with somebody that’s triggering you. Then when you are engaged as much as you can through communication, see if you can fully let the other person feel heard and see [00:38:00] before you then say, “Can I now share my piece of this?”

That might be just repeating to them back exactly word for word what they say until they feel like you got a whole story right. You’ve got their entire side of the story right and then say, “Now, can I explain to you would you mind repeating it back to me.” That’s a tip from the nonviolent communication folks who have an entire curriculum around that but [00:38:30] I think it’s also deeply a mindfulness practice of being willing and able to be one with oneself to be with the boundary and meant to be with the other person.

Noah Rasheta:                      Great. Thank you for sharing that. One more aspect of it that I just thought of, we talked about the mirror and starting the process with learning to love yourself. You specifically mentioned in your book you had this moment where you’re looking at yourself in the mirror and you said, “Are you going to love yourself or not. [00:39:00] How do we start that process introspection in a relationship? I want to improve my relationship. How do I start with me? Is there a first step or something like that?

Yael Shy:                                   It’s accepting. It’s looking and accepting what is already there and it’s not going to happen overnight. We all carry a lot of judgment and pain but it’s almost we have to marry ourselves and be like I’m committed to [00:39:30] this with you and that was my moment when I asked myself, “Listen, are you in or are you out?” We have a life together, me and myself and if I’m really committed to opening my heart to myself, loving myself overtime, then I need to really accept what is there, and to form a friendly relationship even to the parts of myself I thought were so horrible and so [00:40:00] ugly that I never wanted anybody else to see just continually coming back to that, and holding it with love, and realizing that it was probably parts of myself that developed when I was very young in response to situations that were out of my control.

For me, all of meditation, all of this process of even just coming back to our breath and coming back to our feelings, coming back to the things that arises, it’s a practice of learning to love oneself. [00:40:30] It’s not a fast process but if you’re committed, if you put that ring on then that’s where the work happens and that’s where you will slowly and slowly just start to love this being that you are.

Noah Rasheta:                      Thank you. Again, just going to the gym analogy, we wouldn’t think … If I go to the gym today for 10 hours then I’ll [00:41:00] finally be strong. It doesn’t work that way. In fact, that’s going to be really bad where you probably tear all your muscles. Consistency and time, and that’s how it works very much the same way as going to the gym would.

Yael Shy:                                   The only other thing I would add which I think I didn’t before is that part of the meditation process is hearing our inner critics because otherwise they’re just running our life like, “Why are you such [00:41:30] an idiot? Why do you do things this way? You’re such a failure? These things that we just say to ourselves constantly without second guessing it and so I think another piece of the meditation practice where we start to hear this voice and then don’t believe it, slowly start to interrogate that voice and not kick it out but just not believe that it’s true.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that. I do think early on or we focus a lot of energy on trying [00:42:00] to silence the voice or thinking that this won’t be okay until that voice is gone. You need to get rid of it. Then you’re just up for disappointment because the surprise is, “Hey, that voice doesn’t go away.” It’s the moment like you just said when you realized, “I don’t have to believe my own thoughts. Oh, well, now they can just be there. They can stay whatever,” and you’re, “Oh, there’s that thought again but it doesn’t have power over you anymore.”

Yael Shy:                                   If anything, you just have a lot of room for all of these voices that again [00:42:30] like we’re probably created when you were very young and they are still young. They’re not so [inaudible 00:42:35]. They’re not like these big evil demons that they feel like so much of the time.

Noah Rasheta:                      Sure. Okay. Let’s shift topics and talk a little bit about social activism now. One of the common things I hear and I’m sure you encountered this too, misconception that seems about mindfulness or living mindfully. [00:43:00] If you’re mindful, you’re just content with what is and there are bad things happening in [inaudible 00:43:06] in the world and I’m like, “Whatever. Let things be.” I think that’s a fundamental misconception so I want to address that a little bit. There’s social activism. Any form of social justice or work that we do in that arena how does mindfulness come and fit in? How does it improve social activism?

Yael Shy:                                   [00:43:30] This goes right back to that analogy I was saying in that meditation room that day where I thought to myself, I’ll protect my baby in the womb. I’ll protect myself and other people can work it out for themselves and the more that we really tap in, the more we open our hearts but also just experientially understand that we are deeply interconnected [00:44:00] and that we sink or we swim species as a world together, that kind of I’m here, I’m in this just for myself and maybe a couple other people and everybody else can fend for themselves, that starts to breakdown.

It starts to actually … You start to see not because it’s the right thing to do because actually that leads [00:44:30] to more suffering for myself and for others. It leads to more feeling of a wall of the division which then makes me feel imprisoned behind this wall, this imaginary wall I am separate from everyone else. The more that we practice and the more we really truly see how our faiths are completely tied in together, then the more that we can’t sit by when other people are deeply suffering and we always unfortunately lived in [00:45:00] a world where there are people suffering.

I mean hopefully this will not be the case sometime. I assume from my lifetime there will always be people suffering. It’s no longer an option to just be like, “I’ll just meditate so that I can feel calm on my day to day walk to work because you’re not going to feel calm. It’s not going to ease some [00:45:30] of that inside suffering that you have while other people are still in pain. That’s the connection in my mind.

Noah Rasheta:                      I really like what you shared in your book, a quote. This was I think from the aboriginal … The quote says, “If you come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let’s work together.” [00:46:00] That’s introducing the idea of interdependence again that we’re all connected. I think of that not just in the context of going and doing, building schools somewhere in the world like something big.

I’m thinking, wow, this is extremely relevant in my relationships just here with a friend who’s like, “Hey, I want to help you.” How different is that perception is if it goes like, “I’m helping me because I know what’s good for you and I know [00:46:30] how you need to be versus, “We’re tangled up in this together. Let’s work together.”

Yael Shy:                                   Right. The helping mentality is like asymmetrical power structure and adults don’t really like to be helped on a large scale, but everybody needs real solidarity and people working in alignment with them.

Noah Rasheta:                      Isn’t that fascinating? [00:47:00] We’re hardwired as social creatures to want to fit in. Almost everything we do revolves around making sure I fit in and then I’m not excluded and yet I think we have such a hard time feeling like receiving help. It’s like I want to be a part of a team but I don’t want you to do anything for me. If we’re doing it together as a team that’s great, that’s what I actually want. It seems like that’s another way to shift that mindset like I’m [00:47:30] on your team. We’re working together here.

Yael Shy:                                   I think that’s right. To some degree, it’s actually legitimate to not want to be helped by someone who has no idea what your circumstances are. When it’s a patronizing relationship, it can often feel like the person is trying to just help you for themselves and the same way like I want to help someone else is sometimes [00:48:00] just so that I feel better but then it’s all about me, it’s not really about them. It’s a realignment of that.

Noah Rasheta:                      I think sometimes in my past experience, I think sometimes, that’s aggravated by certain beliefs. If I want to save you, it’s like, “I’m not saved the way that I am. No, I’m going to save you.” I try to make sure that doesn’t … I think it’s easy to have that extent in a Buddhist practice where it’s [00:48:30] like, “You need more mindfulness like me. Look, how mindful I am.” It just doesn’t work to have that mindset that’s so far off the mark.

Yael Shy:                                   In that same way of trying to manipulate others is just using these different tools but people manipulate it because there is that manipulation happening even if you think you have the best intentions.

Noah Rasheta:                      Something I want to highlight with social activism [00:49:00] and kind of going back to that misconception of that Buddhism is really engaged socially. I think of someone like Martin Luther King as a good example of this where … I mean just imagine for a moment how ineffective all of his work would have been if he was hyperactive and highly emotional in his approach, very reactive. It would be completely ineffective.

I think [00:49:30] what made him such an effective power for enacting change was he was very common levelheaded and he had wise things to say and he could present things in a way that made people think, “Oh, yeah. Why are we doing this? Why are we not doing that?” I think that to me is the key of the connection between mindfulness and social activism is what we’re trying to accomplish through mindfulness is essentially skillful [00:50:00] means.

If I’m going to be engaged in a social cause, I want to be as effective as possible so mindfulness can help me to be more skillful in my engagement with whatever causing it. When I see it that way, then I realize mindfulness is a really powerful tool to increase the effectiveness of whatever social engagement I’m involved with.

Yael Shy:                                   Absolutely, without a doubt. At the same time, I want [00:50:30] to be careful also because it doesn’t mean that you don’t … I imagine and I think from what I’ve read of his writings, I mean Martin Luther King felt things.

Noah Rasheta:                      Absolutely.

Yael Shy:                                   Felt frustration and suffering and had those strong responses so I know that that’s not what you’re saying that you don’t feel even [00:51:00] furious or angry or deeply wounded or afraid like you so beautifully said that we developed the right strategy and skillful means to address it. Then the only thing I can add to that is that you could say that about anything that mindfulness could bring you skillful means to do a bank takeover or something like [00:51:30] that or to [inaudible 00:51:32] country which is true.

Noah Rasheta:                      The Italian Job, right?

Yael Shy:                                   It is actually to give you those tools of calming and focusing and being responsive and not reactive. It does give you those tools so in that case, it’s correct, but then if you coupled that with also the interconnection that we’re talking about and that [00:52:00] kind of commitment to relieving suffering, then it becomes that you not only have the skillful means bit you also cannot do things that harm people. You can’t even have … I write about this in my book, this line that I love which is how you do anything is how you do everything. I think [inaudible 00:52:24] who do engage in social justice often times find ourselves sometimes [00:52:30] in situations where the language is vitriolic against the other or it’s dehumanizing of the other side in a way that I think does not do us any favors.

I think it just perpetuates this again that sense of a division of those people are bad and we’re good and we just have to win and then we’ll be okay. That’s the real hard work that when you’re fighting for justice that nobody [00:53:00] can be left out. It doesn’t mean that you don’t hold people accountable or that you don’t restrain them when they’re doing harm or anything like that but that it’s all done with the spirit of we are connected. Then it’s an entirely different kind of a spirit.

Noah Rasheta:                      I mean for me I think that’s what makes it so powerful is knowing that the sense of wanting [00:53:30] to do something arises naturally out of understanding, understanding that we’re interdependent rather than this is what you should do? Why because it’s what you should do. It’s not compelled, it’s not a commandment, it’s not I’m supposed to love everyone so here I go. It arises very naturally out of understanding and that understanding arises through sitting and meditating or practicing mindfulness.

Then it’s like, “Why are we doing [00:54:00] this? Why aren’t we doing that?” All of that is natural. I think that’s an important part of the highlight because when it arises naturally, I think we can be more skillful and more determined with the cause. We’re doing this because this is natural. It’s not I’m doing this just because.

Yael Shy:                                   Right. Absolutely. There’s a Zen proverb that says, “In Zen, we do two things. We sit and we sweep the garden. It doesn’t matter how big the garden is and that’s the [00:54:30] proverb. That’s the spirit. When we feel just so overwhelmed by the state of the world, then I think when you’re like, “Time to pick up my broom and sweep my little tiny corner of the garden and I’m just going to do that until I die.” It doesn’t matter if the garden is as big as the whole world. That’s my challenge and that’s what gives you the sustainability to do that long-term.

Noah Rasheta:                      To do what I can, [00:55:00] where I can and what I can which is now. Not have that feeling overwhelmed like if I can’t … I do this with work when I have enough projects on my table or on my plate. I can feel overwhelmed to think, “Well, I’m never going to get any of it done so I guess I’ll just sit here not doing any of it.” I think that can translate to social activism. It’s like this is so overwhelming, I just won’t do anything. I think mindfulness helps us to take that [00:55:30] step back and say, “You can do something. I can do this. This little thing that I’m doing here,” and that’s where I start.

Yael Shy:                                   Absolutely. That’s right. Not only can you but it’s for the sake of all of us. It’s for the sake of yourself and for all of us. One of my teachers, Rabbi Alami once said, “Walking around the world,” we have sometimes this psychic [00:56:00] squint. We’re trying to screen out all the unpleasant, all the suffering, all the things that people are going to and we’re just trying to be happy just by ourselves. That psychic squint gives us headaches like it gives us entire life headaches.

To really commit ourselves even to our little corners of the garden means to really open our eyes and to say like, “I’m not going to wall myself away from this [00:56:30] anymore.”It’s tremendously freeing to do that. To me, it feels like, I accept, there is suffering and I’m going to do what I can and I’m not going to hide myself away anymore.

Noah Rasheta:                      I like that analogy of the squinting. The irony of a strategy like that is that the thing that you’re doing is the thing that’s causing it to be worse. It’s like I’m doing this because I want [00:57:00] to be shielded but that’s also what’s preventing me from taken in all the things that are great.

Yael Shy:                                   Exactly. You screen out the suffering, you screen out the joy. They’re all part of the same thing.

Noah Rasheta:                      For anyone who’s watching live who has questions, now would be a great time if you want to … If you’re on the Crowdcast [00:57:30] website, you can post your question or put in the chat. I’m just going to check really quick on the Facebook one and see what’s going on there real quick. I would hate to find out later that somebody has a question and we just didn’t see it. I’m assuming that even it all worked and it’s broadcasting the way it’s supposed to. It’s live.

[00:58:00] I see comments but I don’t see any questions there. I don’t see any questions on here either and we are approaching the one hour mark so I don’t want to keep you too long and take your precious time. Let’s just shift quickly to the idea of insecurity, intense emotions and insecurity in general. I think this ties [00:58:30] in to what we talked about. There’s insecurity in the relationships, there’s insecurity in the things that we do. Is what I’m doing helping? Am I just wasting my time? What should I be doing in life?

There’s a lot of insecurity in life and across all the age groups, I think it’s especially evident in those younger ages where you’re trying to decide, “Hey, this is where I picked the path that goes this way or this way. Uh-oh. What if I hit the wrong one? It’s evident later in life too because [00:59:00] you go down the path and you’re like, “This is the path I should have gone down.” Most adults have thoughts like, “Is this the person they should married? Is this the carrier I should have gone into? What would it be like if I was over there?”

This insecurity that we’ve seemed to live with at any given moment, we talked earlier about how mindfulness has a skill set as a tool. It’s trying to help us to get more comfortable with the discomfort and the fact is life is [00:59:30] uncomfortable. Thoughts like that are natural so again rather than thinking, “Uh-oh, I need to never think those thoughts,” is just saying, “Where did that thought come from?” Exploring it. Let’s talk about that just for a second. How do we become more comfortable with discomfort, with the insecurity?

Yael Shy:                                   I’m really happy you framed it that way because I think that’s exactly what it is. It’s not finding a solid ground [01:00:00] that you can stand on necessarily, it’s learning how to surf on waves that sometimes will take us under and sometimes will just be enough that we can kind of move our bodies and be flexible and surf gently on those waves, and then when we’re completely knocked over, we try and get back up on that surfboard again, and truly believe that the Buddhist message [01:00:30] that certainly my experience has been that the world is constantly, constantly, constantly changing.

We are constantly, constantly changing and that any solidity is just from releasing into the waves. It’s from releasing into our world that we can’t control and stopping fighting. It’s over and over again this [01:01:00] knowledge, this understanding that when we try, we can change as much as we can change obviously and we do as much as we can do when we try and get ourselves closer to feeling whole and feeling happy but when the world knocks is out again, trying to just say, “I’m knocked out or I’m on very unsteady ground and this is what’s true and really synching in to that. That’s the challenge.

Noah Rasheta:                      [01:01:30] I love the analogy with surfing because you can’t catch the wave if you’re not going with the flow. Anything static in surfing, that spells disaster. It doesn’t work. you can’t stay in one spot. If the wave us too big, I better go under it. If the wave us just right, I’m going to ride it. There’s a lot of dynamic stuff happening there but definitely nothing static. [crosstalk 01:01:57]

Yael Shy:                                   Things are really [01:02:00] bad. The thing that makes it absolutely worse is fighting it. Fighting that break time so you have to just swim into the current. That’s what they always teach you and that’s the journey of our life is to figure out like the serenity priority change the things you can change and to really accept and grieve or to mourn and to be with the things you can’t change [01:02:30] and the wisdom to know the difference.

Noah Rasheta:                      I love that. Great. This has been a really fun topic and I really appreciate you taking the time to join me for this call. For those of you who are listening or watching later, Yael’s book is called, What Now? Meditation for Your Twenties and Beyond. I read this and I was [01:03:00] telling Yael earlier that one of the things that was really evident to me is this stuff is for anyone. It’s written from the perspective of a lot of the experiences during those 20s and 30s but all of the concepts in here, every single one of them are applicable at any stage in life so if you’re interested in learning more about Yael’s approach with her book, What Now? Pick [01:03:30] this up.

I know it’s available in all of the major places where you can buy books and I will put the link on the Secular Buddhism website when I post this interview. I’ll have the video, the audio for the podcast and then I’ll have links to Yael’s website and to her book, at least on Amazon. Lea says, “Great surfing analogy. I haven’t realized you can choose to go under [01:04:00] the wave as a positive option.” That’s cool. Great. If you have any final closing thoughts you want to share with us, Yael?

Yael Shy:                                   Well, I just want to thank you so much for such a fun conversation. I had a really nice time exploring these things with you and I just want to let everybody know that in addition to my website which you’ll post yaelshy.com, you can also find me on all the social medias @yaelshy number 1.

Noah Rasheta:                      [01:04:30] Okay, yaelshy1, that’s your Twitter. Is it the same for Instagram or Facebook and stuff? Okay. Awesome. Well, thank you, Yael. I’m going to end the live portion of this. Thank you to everyone who listened to and participated live. This will be posted on the podcast hopefully later today. Thank you, guys.

Yael Shy:                 Thank you.